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When smaller is better: leaf hydraulic conductance and drought vulnerability correlate to leaf size and venation density across four Coffea arabica genotypes

Andrea Nardini A C , Eele Õunapuu-Pikas A B and Tadeja Savi A

A Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste, Via L. Giorgieri 10, 34127 Trieste, Italy.
B Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Vanemuise 21, 51014 Tartu, Estonia.
C Corresponding author. Email: nardini@units.it

Functional Plant Biology - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP13302
Submitted: 18 October 2013  Accepted: 11 April 2014   Published online: 13 May 2014


 
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Abstract

Leaf hydraulic conductance (Kleaf) and drought vulnerability in terms of leaf water potential inducing 50% loss of Kleaf (P50), were assessed in four genotypes of Coffea arabica L. We tested three hypotheses: (1) leaf P50 is lower in small leaves with higher vein densities; (2) lower P50 translates into lower Kleaf, limiting gas exchange rates and higher leaf mass per unit area (LMA); (3) P50 values are coordinated with symplastic drought tolerance. We found partial support for Hypotheses 1 and 3, but not for Hypothesis 2. Significant correlations existed among leaf size, vein network and drought resistance. Smaller leaves displayed higher major vein density, higher Kleaf and more negative P50. Kleaf was correlated with leaf gas exchange rates. A negative relationship was observed between Kleaf and LMA, whereas P50 was found to be positively correlated with LMA. Across coffee genotypes, reduced leaf surface area and increased vein density shifts P50 towards more negative values while not translating into higher LMA or lower Kleaf. Breeding crop varieties for both increased safety of the leaf hydraulic system towards drought-induced dysfunction and high gas exchange rates per unit of leaf area is probably a feasible target for future adaptation of crops to climate change scenarios.

Additional keywords: coffee, gas exchange, leaf area, Leaf mass per unit area.


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