Regulation of transpirational water loss in Quercus suber trees in a Mediterranean-type ecosystem

Otieno DO, Schmidt MWT, Kurz-Besson C, Lobo do Vale R, Pereira JS, Tenhunen JD
Tree Physiology, Volume 27, Issue 8, 1 August 2007, Pages 1179–1187,

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Sap flux density in branches, leaf transpiration, stomatal conductance and leaf water potentials were measured in 16-year-old Quercus suber L. trees growing in a plantation in southern Portugal to understand how evergreen Mediterranean trees regulate water loss during summer drought. Leaf specific hydraulic conductance and leaf gas exchange were monitored during the progressive summer drought to establish how changes along the hydraulic pathway influence shoot responses. As soil water became limiting, leaf water potential, stomatal conductance and leaf transpiration declined significantly. Predawn leaf water potential reflected soil water potential measured at 1-m depth in the rhizospheres of most trees. The lowest predawn leaf water potential recorded during this period was –1.8 MPa. Mean maximum stomatal conductance declined from 300 to 50 mmol m-2 s-1, reducing transpiration from 6 to 2 mmol m-2 s-1. Changes in leaf gas exchange were attributed to reduced soil water availability, increased resistances along the hydraulic pathway and, hence, reduced leaf water supply. There was a strong coupling between changes in soil water content and stomatal conductance as well as between stomatal conductance and leaf specific hydraulic conductance. Despite significant seasonal differences among trees in predawn leaf water potential, stomatal conductance, leaf transpiration and leaf specific hydraulic conductance, there were no differences in midday leaf water potentials. The strong regulation of changes in leaf water potential in Q. suber both diurnally and seasonally is achieved through stomatal closure, which is sensitive to changes in both liquid and vapor phase conductance. This sensitivity allows for optimization of carbon and water resource use without compromising the root–shoot hydraulic link.