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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Heavy browsing affects the hydraulic capacity of Ceanothus rigidus (Rhamnaceae)

  • Author(s): Pittermann, J
  • Lance, J
  • Poster, L
  • Baer, A
  • Fox, LR
  • et al.

Defoliation by herbivores can reduce carbon assimilation, change plant water relations, and even shift the biotic structure of plant communities. In this study, we took advantage of a long-term deer exclosure experiment to examine the consequences of persistent deer herbivory on plant water relations and the xylem structure-function relationships in Ceanothus rigidus, a maritime chaparral shrub in coastal California. Browsed plants had thicker stems with many intertwined short distal twigs, and significantly higher sapwood-to-leaf area ratios than their non-browsed counterparts. Leaf area-specific hydraulic conductivity was similar in both browsed and non-browsed plants, but xylem area-specific conductivity was significantly lower in the browsed plants. Vessel diameters were equivalent in both plant groups, but the number of vessels on a transverse area basis was nearly 40 % lower in the browsed plants, accounting for their lower transport efficiency. Mid-day in situ water potentials and losses of hydraulic conductivity due to embolism were similar in both groups of plants but stomatal conductance was higher in the browsed shrubs in the early part of the growing season. We discuss our findings in the context of whole-plant ecophysiology, and explore the consequences of herbivory on hormonal signals, wood anatomy, and xylem function. © 2014 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

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