The impact of drought on leaf physiology of Quercus suber L. trees: comparison of an extreme drought event with chronic rainfall reduction

Grant OM, Tronina L, Ramalho JC, Besson CK, Lobo-do-Vale R, Pereira JS, Jones HG, Chaves MM
Journal of Experimental Botany, Vol. 61, No. 15, pp. 43614371, 2010 doi:10.1093/jxb/erq239

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Understanding the responses of cork oak (Quercus suber L.) to actual and predicted summer conditions is essential to determine the future sustainability of cork oak woodlands in Iberia. Thermal imaging may provide a rapid method for monitoring the extent of stress. The ecophysiology of cork trees was studied over three years. Three treatments were applied by means of rainfall capture and irrigation, with plots receiving 120%, 100%, or 80% of natural precipitation. Despite stomatal closure, detected using both thermal imaging and porometry, leaf water potential fell during the summer, most drastically during the third year of accumulative stress. The quantum efficiency (ϕPSII) and the maximum efficiency FV'/FM' of photosystem II also fell more intensely over the third summer, while non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) increased. The reduced precipitation treatment sporadically further reduced leaf water potential, stomatal conductance (gs), IG (an index of gs derived from thermal imaging), ϕPSII, and FV'/FM', and increased leaf temperature and NPQ. It is concluded that these are very resilient trees since they were only severely affected in the third year of severe drought (the third year registering 45% less rainfall than average), and removing 20% of rainfall had a limited impact.