Robert Skelton

Robert Skelton
South African Environmental Observation Network - Fynbos Node

PhD in Plant Physiology
Examining plant physiological responses to water deficit in diverse plant communities.

About

30
Publications
9,003
Reads
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965
Citations
Introduction
Robert Skelton currently works at the South African Environmental Observation Network in Cape Town where he conducts research into plant physiology and ecology. His current project examines plant drought responses in biodiverse ecosystems. Robert works with techniques specific to the field of plant hydraulics, including innovative methods designed to quantify failure in plant water transport networks. For more information about Robert Skelton's research visit his webpage at robertskelton.org
Additional affiliations
January 2015 - December 2016
University of Tasmania
Position
  • PostDoc Position
February 2011 - December 2014
University of Cape Town
Position
  • PhD Student
January 2011 - December 2014
University of Cape Town
Position
  • PhD Student

Publications

Publications (30)
Article
Full-text available
Significance A fundamental association between sustained water transport and downstream tissue survival should select for xylem that avoids embolism in long-lived woody plants. Previous studies suggest that long-vessel species, such as oaks and vines, are more susceptible to drought-induced loss of function than other species. We show that western...
Article
Full-text available
This article comments on: Soriano D, Echeverría A, Anfodillo T, Rosell JA, Olson ME. 2020. Hydraulic traits vary following tip-to-base conduit widening in vascular plants. Journal of Experimental Botany 71, 4232–4242.
Article
Full-text available
1.Recent findings suggest that tree mortality and post‐drought recovery of gas exchange can be predicted from loss of function within the water transport system. Understanding the susceptibility of plants to hydraulic damage requires knowledge about the vulnerability of different plant organs to stress‐induced hydraulic dysfunction. This is particu...
Article
Full-text available
Vulnerability to embolism varies between con‐generic species distributed along aridity gradients, yet little is known about intra‐specific variation and its drivers. Even less is known about intra‐specific variation in tissues other than stems, despite results suggesting that roots, stems and leaves can differ in vulnerability. We hypothesized that...
Article
Full-text available
A goal of comparative physiology is to understand underlying causes of the tremendous diversity of land plant form and function. The hope is that functional diversity of land plants can be distilled to a few traits that together capture the essence of plant form and function (Díaz et al., 2016), thereby simplifying plant diversity into a tractable...
Article
Despite the appeal of the iso/anisohydric framework for classifying plant drought responses, recent studies have shown that such classifications can be strongly affected by a plantꞋs environment. Here we present measured in‐situ drought responses to demonstrate that apparent isohydricity can be conflated with environmental conditions that vary over...
Article
Full-text available
Background/context: Although drought-related damage thresholds to plant species and post-drought recovery of forest productivity are not yet fully understood, recent findings suggest that post-drought recovery of gas exchange can be predicted by xylem safety margins and loss of whole plant hydraulic conductance. Consequently, understanding the caus...
Article
Many recent studies on drought-induced vegetation mortality have explored how plant functional traits, and classifications of such traits along axes of, for example, isohydry-anisohydry, might contribute to predicting drought survival and recovery. As these studies proliferate, the consistency and predictive value of such classifications need to be...
Article
Full-text available
Although recent findings suggest that xylem embolism represents a significant, drought-induced damaging process in land plants, substantial debate surrounds the capacity of long-vesselled, ring-porous species to resist embolism. We investigated whether recent methodological developments could help resolve this controversy within Quercus, a long-ves...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods Drought can cause major damage to plant communities, but species damage thresholds and post-drought recovery of forest productivity are not yet predictable. We asked the question how should forest net primary productivity recover following exposure to severe drought? We used an El Niño drought event as a natural experime...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods Drought can cause major damage to plant communities, but species damage thresholds and post-drought recovery of forest productivity are not yet predictable. We used the extreme 2012-2015 drought in California to investigate whether post-drought recovery of plant productivity could be predicted by properties of the water...
Article
Full-text available
Drought can cause major damage to plant communities, but species damage thresholds and postdrought recovery of forest productivity are not yet predictable. We used an El Niño drought event as a natural experiment to test whether postdrought recovery of gas exchange could be predicted by properties of the water transport system, or if metabolism, pr...
Article
Full-text available
Finding thresholds at which loss of plant functionality occurs during drought is critical for predicting future crop productivity and survival. Xylem resistance to embolism has been suggested as a key trait associated with water-stress tolerance. Although a substantial literature exists describing the vulnerability of woody stems to embolism, leave...
Article
External sapflow sensors are a useful tool in plant ecology and physiology for monitoring water movement within small stems or other small plant organs. These gauges make use of heat as a tracer of water movement through the stem and can be applied in both a laboratory and a field setting to generate data of relatively high temporal resolution. Typ...
Article
Full-text available
Vascular plant mortality during drought has been strongly linked to a failure of the internal water transport system caused by the rapid invasion of air and subsequent blockage of xylem conduits. Quantification of this critical process is greatly complicated by the existence of high water tension in xylem cells making them prone to embolism during...
Article
Full-text available
Attempts to understand mechanisms underlying plant mortality during drought have led to the emergence of a hydraulic framework describing distinct hydraulic strategies among coexisting species. This framework distinguishes species that rapidly decrease stomatal conductance (gs), thereby maintaining high water potential (Px; isohydric), from those s...
Chapter
Full-text available
The species richness of the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) reflects a complex evolutionary history as well as extreme habitat heterogeneity. Here we argue that two main components of habitat heterogeneity are, 1) the variability across the CFR in the prevalence of hot, dry summers and wet winters, and 2) edaphic diversity due the complex geological de...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods The global increase in drought-related tree mortality has sparked renewed interest in mortality mechanisms in plants. However, the impact of drought on highly diverse ecosystems is not well understood. Drought-related plant mortality is of particular concern in the Fynbos Biome of South Africa, a well-known global biod...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods Attempts to understand the mechanisms underlying plant mortality during drought have led to the emergence of a hydraulic framework describing distinct hydraulic strategies. This framework distinguishes species that respond to dehydration by rapidly decreasing stomatal conductance (gs), thereby maintaining high water pot...
Article
Full-text available
There has been limited application of sapflow technology to small-stemmed species and across co-existing functional types, restricting its use in diverse floras such as the Mediterranean-type shrubland in South Africa. Our main objective was to test whether sapflow may provide an alternative to traditional gas-exchange measurements, which would per...
Article
Full-text available
Although pubescence has traditionally been considered to be related to the water economy of plants, the results are ambivalent and vary between different species. We tested two contrasting hypotheses for the functional significance of leaf pubescence of Proteaceae species from the Cape Floristic Region. First, we hypothesised that pubescence is a x...
Article
Full-text available
The actual mechanism which causes plant death after having been burned has been poorly studied. One possibility is that fire causes direct, or indirect, fatal damage to plant hydraulic systems. If true, this suggests that burned plants ultimately die of drought. This hypothesis was tested on the post-fire response of a “fire-resister” species of th...

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Projects

Projects (2)
Project
The aim of this project is to examine and quantify fundamental physiological mechanisms underlying broader plant processes and responses, with a particular emphasis on functionally and ecologically diverse plant taxa occurring in temperate ecosystems.