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Ecology of hemiepiphytism in fig species is based on evolutionary correlation of hydraulics and carbon economy

Hao, Guang-You, Goldstein, Guillermo, Sack, Lawren, Holbrook, N. Michele, Liu, Zhi-Hui, Wang, Ai-Ying, Harrison, Rhett D., Su, Zhi-Hui, Cao, Kun-Fang
Ecology 2011 v.92 no.11 pp. 2117-2130
Ficus, adults, canopy, carbon, convergent evolution, correlation, ecophysiology, figs, gas exchange, hydraulic conductivity, leaves, nutrient content, nutrient use efficiency, phylogeny, stomatal conductance, trees, tropical rain forests, water use efficiency, xylem
Woody hemiepiphytic species (Hs) are important components of tropical rain forests, and they have been hypothesized to differ from non‐hemiepiphytic tree species (NHs) in adaptations relating to water relations and carbon economy; but few studies have been conducted comparing ecophysiological traits between the two growth forms especially in an evolutionary context. Using common‐garden plants of the genus Ficus, functional traits related to plant hydraulics and carbon economy were compared for seven NHs and seven Hs in their adult terrestrial “tree‐like” growth phase. We used phylogenetically independent contrasts to test the hypothesis that differences in water availability selected for contrasting suites of traits in Hs and NHs, driving evolutionary correlations among functional traits including hydraulic conductivity and photosynthetic traits. Species of the two growth forms differed in functional traits; Hs had substantially lower xylem hydraulic conductivity and stomatal conductance, and higher instantaneous photosynthetic water use efficiency. Leaf morphological and structural traits also differed strikingly between the two growth forms. The Hs had significantly smaller leaves, higher leaf mass per area (LMA), and smaller xylem vessel lumen diameters. Across all the species, hydraulic conductivity was positively correlated with leaf gas exchange indicating high degrees of hydraulic–photosynthetic coordination. More importantly, these correlations were supported by correlations implemented on phylogenetic independent contrasts, suggesting that most trait correlations arose through repeated convergent evolution rather than as a result of chance events in the deep nodes of the lineage. Variation in xylem hydraulic conductivity was also centrally associated with a suite of other functional traits related to carbon economy and growth, such as LMA, water use efficiency, leaf nutrient concentration, and photosynthetic nutrient use efficiency, indicating important physiological constraints or trade‐offs among functional traits. Shifts in this trait cluster apparently related to the adaptation to drought‐prone canopy growth during the early life cycle of Hs and clearly affected ecophysiology of the later terrestrial stage of these species. Evolutionary flexibility in hydraulics and associated traits might be one basis for the hyper‐diversification of Ficus species in tropical rain forests.