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

Photosynthetic sensitivity to drought varies among populations of Quercus ilex along a rainfall gradient

Nicolas K. Martin-StPaul A D , Jean-Marc Limousin B , Jesús Rodríguez-Calcerrada A , Julien Ruffault A , Serge Rambal A , Matthew G. Letts C and Laurent Misson A

A Equipe DREAM, CEFE CNRS 1919 route de Mende 34000 Montpellier, France.

B Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, MSC03 2020, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001, USA.

C Department of Geography, Alberta Water and Environmental Science Building, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive, Lethbridge, Alberta T1K 3M4, Canada.

D Corresponding author. Email: nmartin@cefe.cnrs.fr

Functional Plant Biology 39(1) 25-37 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP11090
Submitted: 14 April 2011  Accepted: 28 September 2011   Published: 7 November 2011

Abstract

Drought frequency and intensity are expected to increase in the Mediterranean as a consequence of global climate change. To understand how photosynthetic capacity responds to long-term water stress, we measured seasonal patterns of stomatal (SL), mesophyll (MCL) and biochemical limitations (BL) to net photosynthesis (Amax) in three Quercus ilex (L.) populations from sites differing in annual rainfall. In the absence of water stress, stomatal conductance (gs), maximum carboxylation capacity (Vcmax), photosynthetic electron transport rate (Jmax) and Amax were similar among populations. However, as leaf predawn water potential (Ψl,pd) declined, the population from the wettest site showed steeper declines in gs, Vcmax, Jmax and Amax than those from the drier sites. Consequently, SL, MCL and BL increased most steeply in response to decreasing Ψl,pd in the population from the wettest site. The higher sensitivity of Amax to drought was primarily the result of stronger stomatal regulation of water loss. Among-population differences were not observed when gs was used instead of Ψl,pd as a drought stress indicator. Given that higher growth rates, stature and leaf area index were observed at the wettest site, we speculate that hydraulic architecture may explain the greater drought sensitivity of this population. Collectively, these results highlight the importance of considering among-population differences in photosynthetic responses to seasonal drought in large scale process-based models of forest ecosystem function.

Additional keywords: carbon sequestration, ecohydrological equilibrium theory, evergreen forest, Farquhar model, holm oak, hydraulic architecture, leaf gas exchange, precipitation gradient.


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