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Leaf gas exchange characteristics and water- and nitrogen-use efficiencies of dominant grass and tree species in a West African savanna

Simioni, G., Le Roux, X., Gignoux, J., Walcroft, A.S.
Plant ecology 2004 v.173 no.2 pp. 233-246
Andropogon, C3 plants, C4 plants, Cussonia, Hyparrhenia, carbon, carbon dioxide, environmental factors, functional diversity, gas exchange, grasses, leaves, models, nitrogen, photosynthesis, savannas, stomatal conductance, stomatal movement, trees, vapor pressure, water use efficiency, Cote d'Ivoire
Whereas leaf gas exchange properties are important to assess carbon and water fluxes in ecosystems worldwide, information of this type is scarce for savanna species. In this study, gas exchange characteristics of 2 C4 grass species (Andropogon canaliculatus and Hyparrhenia diplandra) and 2 C3 tree species (Crossopteryx febrifuga and Cussonia arborea) from the West-African savanna of Lamto (Ivory Coast) were investigated in the field. Measurements were done in order to provide data to allow the parameterization of biochemically-based models of photosynthesis (for C4 and C3 plant metabolic types) and stomatal conductance ; and to compare gas exchange characteristics of coexisting species. No systematic difference was found between grass and tree species for reference stomatal conductance, under standard environmental conditions, or stomatal response to incident light or vapour pressure deficit at leaf surface. Conversely, grass species displayed higher water (1.5-2 fold) and nitrogen (2-5 fold) photosynthetic use efficiencies (WUE and NUE, ratio of net photosynthesis to transpiration and leaf nitrogen, respectively). These contrasts were attributed to the CO2 concentrating mechanism of C4 plants. When looking within plant life forms, no important difference was found between grass species. However, significant contrasts were found between tree species, Cussonia showing higher NUE and reference stomatal conductance than Crossopteryx. These results stress the need to account for functional diversity when estimating ecosystem carbon and water fluxes. In particular, our results suggest that the tree/grass ratio, and also the composition of the tree layer, could strongly affect WUE and NUE at the ecosystem scale in West African savannas.