Seasonal water-use efficiency and chlorophyll fluorescence response in alpha grass (Stipa tenacissima L.) is affected by tussock size

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Twelve randomly chosen Stipa tenacissima L. individuals were grouped into three tussock size classes, small (ST), medium (MT), and large (LT) with 5.6±0.8, 34.1±4.2, and 631.9±85.8 g of dry green foliar matter, respectively, in three plots with different S. tenacissima cover. Instantaneous (WUEi) and long-term (WUEl) water-use efficiencies were measured in two seasons of contrasting volumetric soil water content (early winter 21.0±0.8 % and summer 5.8±0.3 %). Maximum photochemical efficiency of photosystem 2 and stomatal conductance in summer assessed the extent of water and irradiance stress in tussocks of different size. WUEi was lower in MT and ST “water spender” strategies than in LT during the high water-availability season. In summer net photosynthetic rate and WUEi were higher and photoinhibition was lower in LT than in MT and ST. Significant spatial variability was found in WUEi. Water uptake was competitive in stands with denser alpha grass and more water availability in summer, reducing their WUEi. However, WUEl showed a rising tendency when water became scarce. Thus it is important to explicitly account for plant size in ecophysiological studies, which must be combined with demographic information when estimating functional processes at stand level in sequential scaling procedures.

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