Physiological differences between root suckers and saplings enlarge the regeneration niche in Eucryphia cordifolia Cav.

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Many clonal plants produce vegetative recruits that remain connected to the parent plant. Such connections permit resource sharing among ramets, explaining the high survival rates of vegetative recruits during establishment under suboptimal conditions for sexual regeneration. We propose that differences in the regeneration niches of sexual and vegetative recruits reflect different physiological adjustments caused by parental supply of resources to the ramets. We conducted ecophysiological measurements in saplings and root suckers of Eucryphia cordifolia Cav., a tree species of the temperate rainforest of southern South America. We compared the following traits of saplings and suckers: gas exchange at the leaf level, crown architecture, daily crown carbon balance, biomass allocation to above-ground tissues (leaf-to-stem mass ratio, leaf mass area and leaf area ratio), xylem anatomy traits (lumen vessel fraction, vessel density and size) and stem ring width. We also correlated the growth rates of saplings and suckers with relevant environmental data (light and climate). Saplings showed morphological, architectural and physiological traits that enhance daily crown carbon balance and increase water-use efficiency, in order to supply their growth demands while minimizing water loss per unit of carbon gained. The radial growth of saplings diminished under dry conditions, which suggests a strong stomatal sensitivity to water availability. Suckers have low stomatal conductance, likely because the carbon supplied by the parent plant diminishes the necessity of high rates of photosynthesis. The low responsiveness of sucker growth to temporal changes in water availability also supports the existence of parental supply. The physiological differences between sexual and vegetative recruits satisfactorily explain the ecological niche of E. cordifolia, with saplings restricted to more closed and humid sites.

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