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Comparison of respiratory and growth characteristics of two co-occurring shrubs from a cold desert, Coleogyne ramosissima (blackbrush) and Atriplex confertifolia (shadscale)

Summers, H.A., Smith, B.N., Hansen, L.D.
Journal of arid environments 2009 v.73 no.1 pp. 1-6
Coleogyne ramosissima, Atriplex confertifolia, shrubs, deserts, cold zones, plant growth, plant reproduction, cell respiration, environmental factors, temperature, metabolism, Utah
Coleogyne ramosissima Torr. (blackbrush) and Atriplex confertifolia [Torr. & Frem.] Wats. (shadscale) are cold desert shrubs from different families. Despite very different life histories they often grow in close geographic proximity in the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau between 800 and 2000 m elevation. The purpose of this study is to compare the ecophysiology of slow growing and reproducing blackbrush with the ecophysiology of faster growing and reproducing shadscale. Metabolic heat and carbon dioxide production rates were measured on leaf tissue from wild plants and on lab-grown seedlings at temperatures from 10 to 35 °C at 5 °C intervals. Heat of combustion, ash content, and carbon and nitrogen contents were also measured. Substrate carbon conversion efficiencies and anabolic (or growth) rates were calculated from the respiration data. The growth rate of blackbrush was found to be approximately half that of shadscale because of lower respiration rate, but blackbrush begins growing earlier in the spring and can grow at higher temperatures when water is available. Blackbrush was observed to reproduce heavily when winter and spring precipitation is abundant.