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Contrasting drought tolerance strategies in two desert annuals of hybrid origin

Rosenthal, David M., Stiller, Volker, Sperry, John S., Donovan, Lisa A.
Journal of experimental botany 2010 v.61 no.10 pp. 2769-2778
Helianthus, annuals, basins, deserts, drought tolerance, dry environmental conditions, dunes, embolism, gardens, habitats, herbaceous plants, hybrids, indigenous species, sandy soils, soil heterogeneity, stems, transpiration, variance, water potential, woody plants, xylem
Woody plants native to mesic habitats tend to be more vulnerable to drought-induced cavitation than those in xeric habitats. Cavitation resistance in herbaceous plants, however, is rarely studied and whether or not annual plants in arid habitats conform to the trends observed in woody plants is unknown. This question is addressed by comparing the hydraulic properties of annual plants endemic to relatively mesic and seasonally xeric habitats in the Great Basin Desert, in both native and experimental settings. Vulnerability to cavitation between species differed as predicted when vulnerability curves of similar-sized native individuals were compared. Contrary to expectations, Helianthus anomalus from the relatively mesic dune sites, on average, exhibited higher native embolism, lower soil-to-leaf hydraulic conductance (kL) and lower transpiration rates, than its xeric analogue, H. deserticola. In transplant gardens, H. anomalus' vulnerability to cavitation was unaffected by transplant location or watering treatment. In H. deserticola, however, vulnerability to cavitation varied significantly in response to watering in transplant gardens and varied as a function of stem water potential (╬Ęstem). H. deserticola largely avoided cavitation through its higher water status and generally more resistant xylem, traits consistent with a short life cycle and typical drought-escape strategy. By contrast, H. anomalus' higher native embolism is likely to be adaptive by lowering plant conductance and transpiration rate, thus preventing the loss of root-to-soil hydraulic contact in the coarse sand dune soils. For H. anomalus this dehydration avoidance strategy is consistent with its relatively long 3-4 month life cycle and low-competition habitat. We conclude that variance of hydraulic parameters in herbaceous plants is a function of soil moisture heterogeneity and is consistent with the notion that trait plasticity to fine-grained environmental variation can be adaptive.