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Carbon assimilation and water-use efficiency by neighboring Mediterranean-climate oaks that differ in water access.

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Abstract

Quercus agrifolia Nee and Quercus durata Jeps. are sclerophyllous evergreens that co-occur in regions of northern California that have a serpentine-derived soil. The species are of similar stature and density where they grow together, even though late-drought xylem pressure potentials indicate that Q. durata has access to more soil water than Q. agrifolia. To assess how carbon uptake and water-use efficiency (WUE) are affected by water access, I monitored leaf and canopy gas exchange of neighboring Q. durata and Q. agrifolia trees over a 15-month period. Transpiration and photosynthesis by Q. agrifolia peaked in spring and declined through the summer, whereas transpiration and photosynthesis by Q. durata continued at a moderate rate year round. When summed over the study, Q. agrifolia transpired 25% less water on a ground-area basis than Q. durata, but assimilated 25% more carbon. Quercus agrifolia achieved a greater integrated WUE by: (1) maintaining a 20% advantage in instantaneous WUE as a result of lower leaf intercellular CO(2) concentrations; (2) responding rapidly to increased soil water following rain; and (3) assimilating carbon at high rates during periods of low evaporative demand.

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