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Stem photosynthesis and hydraulics are coordinated in desert plant species.

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Coordination between stem photosynthesis and hydraulics in green-stemmed desert plants is important for understanding the physiology of stem photosynthesis and possible drought responses. Plants with photosynthetic stems have extra carbon gain that can help cope with the detrimental effects of drought. We studied photosynthetic, hydraulic and functional traits of 11 plant species with photosynthetic stems from three California desert locations. We compared relationships among traits between wet and dry seasons to test the effect of seasonality on these relationships. Finally, we compared stem trait relationships with analogous relationships in the leaf economics spectrum. We found that photosynthetic and hydraulic traits are coordinated in photosynthetic stems. The slope or intercept of all trait relationships was mediated by seasonality. The relationship between mass-based stem photosynthetic CO2 assimilation rate (Amass ) and specific stem area (SSA; stem surface area to dry mass ratio) was statistically indistinguishable from the leaf economics spectrum. Our results indicate that photosynthetic stems behave like leaves in the coordination of multiple traits related to carbon gain, water movement and water loss. Because of the similarity of the stem Amass -SSA relationship to the leaf Amass -specific leaf area relationship, we suggest the existence of a photosynthetic stem economic spectrum.

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