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Functional and evolutionary correlations of steep leaf angles in the mexical shrubland

Valiente-Banuet, Alfonso, Verdú, Miguel, Valladares, Fernando, García-Fayos, Patricio
Oecologia 2010 v.163 no.1 pp. 25-33
air temperature, ancestry, dry season, energy balance, leaf angle, leaves, microclimate, phylogeny, shrublands, stomatal conductance, water potential, woody plants, Mexico
In the evergreen shrubland vegetation of Mexico (mexical), most of the species are sclerophyllous woody plants with steep leaf angles. This architectural pattern has been interpreted as a strategy to cope with water shortages and high radiation. However, the current association between evergreenness and steep leaf angles across mexical plant species could be the result of an adaptive association achieved through correlated evolutionary change between both traits or, alternatively, may be the result of common evolutionary ancestry. In this study, we quantified leaf angle in 28 dominant species under a phylogenetic framework and evaluated the functional implications of the observed range of leaf angles in terms of leaf temperature, water potentials and transpiration by combining manipulative experiments restraining leaves horizontally with microclimatic and stomatal conductance measurements in selected species and energy balance calculations. Horizontally restrained leaves exhibited reduced water potentials and stomatal conductances, and significantly increased temperatures and transpiration rates. Steeply inclined leaves operated near air temperatures and could sustain relatively high stomatal conductances during the dry season since they were associated with low transpiration rates. Phylogenetic analyses showed that steep leaf angles evolved in a correlated fashion in evergreen species. The functional consequences of leaf angle together with the phylogenetic analysis indicate the adaptive nature of this trait which allows the evergreen species to cope with arid conditions and therefore to persist within the mexical community.