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Variation in water potential, hydraulic characteristics and water source use in montane Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine trees in southwestern Alberta and consequences for seasonal changes in photosynthetic capacity.

Department of Biological Sciences, Water & Environmental Sciences Building, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1K 3M4.
Tree Physiology (Impact Factor: 2.85). 02/2012; 32(2):146-60. DOI: 10.1093/treephys/tpr136
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Tree species response to climate change-induced shifts in the hydrological cycle depends on many physiological traits, particularly variation in water relations characteristics. We evaluated differences in shoot water potential, vulnerability of branches to reductions in hydraulic conductivity, and water source use between Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud. var. latifolia Engelm. (lodgepole pine) and Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco (interior Douglas-fir), and determined the consequences for seasonal changes in photosynthetic capacity. The Douglas-fir site had soil with greater depth, finer texture and higher organic matter content than soil at the lodgepole pine site, all factors that increased the storage of soil moisture. While the measured xylem vulnerability curves were quite similar for the two species, Douglas-fir had lower average midday shoot water potentials than did lodgepole pine. This implied that lodgepole pine exhibited stronger stomatal control of transpiration than Douglas-fir, which helped to reduce the magnitude of the water potential gradient required to access water from drying soil. Stable hydrogen isotope measurements indicated that Douglas-fir increased the use of groundwater during mid-summer when precipitation inputs were low, while lodgepole pine did not. There was a greater reduction of photosynthetic carbon gain in lodgepole pine compared with Douglas-fir when the two tree species were exposed to seasonal declines in soil water content. The contrasting patterns of seasonal variation in photosynthetic capacity observed for the two species were a combined result of differences in soil characteristics at the separate sites and the inherent physiological differences between the species.

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