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Quantitative mesophyll parameters rather than whole‐leaf traits predict response of C3 steppe plants to aridity

Ivanova, Larissa A., Yudina, Polina K., Ronzhina, Dina A., Ivanov, Leonid A., Hölzel, Norbert
Thenew phytologist 2018 v.217 no.2 pp. 558-570
C3 plants, Liliopsida, Magnoliopsida, carbon, chlorophyll, chloroplasts, climate, dry environmental conditions, forest steppe, leaf area, leaves, mesophyll, nitrogen, nitrogen content, photosynthesis, phylogeny, plant communities, surface area, Russia
We studied the impact of aridity on leaf and mesophyll traits in dominant and very abundant plant species of Eurasian steppe plant communities. We covered a 500‐km latitudinal gradient across three vegetation zones in the Volga region of southern European Russia. Whole‐leaf traits, volumetric fractions of leaf tissues, quantitative parameters of photosynthetic cells and chloroplasts, and chlorophyll, carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) contents were analyzed and related to plant functional type (PFT), type of mesophyll anatomy, phylogeny and climate aridity. The proportions of prevailing PFTs in the communities, such as C₃ monocots, C₃ dicots with dorsiventral and isopalisade anatomy and C₄ dicots, changed with increasing aridity which influenced the whole‐leaf parameters and tissue composition in the leaf. Leaf mass per unit area and leaf thickness slightly increased along the aridity gradient, but the most significant changes were observed in the mesophyll. Mesophyll cell surface area, chloroplast number and chloroplast surface area per unit leaf area were higher in C₃ plants growing in the desert steppe compared with those of the forest steppe, while chlorophyll content per single chloroplast and per unit N content as well chlorophyll a/b ratio decreased. Our results identify a suite of mesophyll traits as a typical ‘syndrome’ of increasingly drought‐adapted steppe plants.