Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology

Photosynthesis and water-use efficiency of seedlings from northern Australian monsoon forest, savanna and swamp habitats grown in a common garden

Kim A. Orchard A , Lucas A. Cernusak A C and Lindsay B. Hutley A B

A School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

B School of Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Functional Plant Biology 37(11) 1050-1060
Submitted: 22 December 2009  Accepted: 6 July 2010   Published: 22 October 2010


Islands of monsoon rainforest and Melaleuca swamp punctuate vast tracts of savanna in monsoonal northern Australia. Seedlings of species from each of these habitat associations were grown in a common garden. Monsoon forest species had higher specific leaf area, lower photosynthetic capacity and lower photosynthetic light compensation points, and required lower irradiance to achieve 50% of light-saturated photosynthesis compared with savanna or swamp species. These traits probably contribute towards greater shade tolerance beneath dense monsoon-forest canopies, whereas savanna and swamp canopies are relatively open. Swamp species, especially two Melaleuca species, had high stomatal conductance and small CO2 drawdown during photosynthesis, and more negative leaf δ13C, compared with monsoon forest and savanna species. Higher stomatal conductance increases carbon uptake during photosynthesis and a high transpiration rate would increase transport of nutrients to absorbing surfaces in the root by mass flow. Thus, a strategy of high transpiration and low water-use efficiency appears to be favoured in swamp species compared with monsoon-forest and savanna species. Instantaneous measurements of the ratio of intercellular to ambient CO2 concentrations (ci/ca) explained 81% of variation in leaf δ13C across 44 species sampled in this and other studies, suggesting that leaf δ13C generally provides a robust proxy for comparisons of ci/ca, even when applied across species.

Additional keywords: carbon isotope ratio, Melaleuca, transpiration.


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