Grassland ecosystems are historically shaped by climate, fire, and grazing which are essential ecological drivers. These grassland drivers influence morphology and productivity of grasses via physiological processes, resulting in unique water and carbon-use strategies among species and populations. Leaf-level physiological responses in plants are constrained by the underlying anatomy, previously shown to reflect patterns of carbon assimilation and water-use in leaf tissues. However, the magnitude to which anatomy and physiology are impacted by grassland drivers remains unstudied. To address this knowledge gap, we sampled from three locations along a latitudinal gradient in the mesic grassland region of the central Great Plains, USA during the 2018 (drier) and 2019 (wetter) growing seasons. We measured annual biomass and forage quality at the plot level, while collecting physiological and anatomical traits at the leaf-level in cattle grazed and ungrazed locations at each site. Effects of ambient drought conditions superseded local grazing treatments and reduced carbon assimilation and total productivity in
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- Springer Science + Business Media
- Date Published:
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- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- p. 345-355
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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null (Ed.)Abstract Background and Aims Andropogon gerardii is a highly productive C4 grass species with a large geographic range throughout the North American Great Plains, a biome characterized by a variable temperate climate. Plant traits are often invoked to explain growth rates and competitive abilities within broad climate gradients. For example, plant competition models typically predict that species with large geographic ranges benefit from variation in traits underlying high growth potential. Here, we examined the relationship between climate variability and leaf-level traits in A. gerardii, emphasizing how leaf-level microanatomical traits serve as a mechanism that may underlie variation in commonly measured traits, such as specific leaf area (SLA). Methods Andropogon gerardii leaves were collected in August 2017 from Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve (MN), Konza Prairie Biological Station (KS), Platte River Prairie (NE) and Rocky Mountain Research Station (SD). Leaves from ten individuals from each site were trimmed, stained and prepared for fluorescent confocal microscopy to analyse internal leaf anatomy. Leaf microanatomical data were compared with historical and growing season climate data extracted from PRISM spatial climate models. Key Results Microanatomical traits displayed large variation within and across sites. According to AICc (Akaike’s information criterion adjusted for small sample sizes) selection scores, the interaction of mean precipitation and temperature for the 2017 growing season was the best predictor of variability for the anatomical and morphological traits measured here. Mesophyll area and bundle sheath thickness were directly correlated with mean temperature (annual and growing season). Tissues related to water-use strategies, such as bulliform cell and xylem area, were significantly correlated with one another. Conclusions The results indicate that (1) microanatomical trait variation exists within this broadly distributed grass species, (2) microanatomical trait variability appears likely to impact leaf-level carbon and water use strategies, and (3) microanatomical trait values vary across climate gradients, and may underlie variation in traits measured at larger ecological scales.more » « less
The effects of climate change on plants and ecosystems are mediated by plant hydraulic traits, including interspecific and intraspecific variability of trait phenotypes. Yet, integrative and realistic studies of hydraulic traits and climate change are rare. In a semiarid grassland, we assessed the response of several plant hydraulic traits to elevated CO2(+200 ppm) and warming (+1.5 to 3°C; day to night). For leaves of five dominant species (three graminoids and two forbs), and in replicated plots exposed to 7 years of elevated CO2, warming, or ambient climate, we measured: stomatal density and size, xylem vessel size, turgor loss point, and water potential (pre‐dawn). Interspecific differences in hydraulic traits were larger than intraspecific shifts induced by elevated CO2and/or warming. Effects of elevated CO2were greater than effects of warming, and interactions between treatments were weak or not detected. The forbs showed little phenotypic plasticity. The graminoids had leaf water potentials and turgor loss points that were 10% to 50% less negative under elevated CO2; thus, climate change might cause these species to adjust their drought resistance strategy away from tolerance and toward avoidance. The C4 grass also reduced allocation of leaf area to stomata under elevated CO2, which helps explain observations of higher soil moisture. The shifts in hydraulic traits under elevated CO2were not, however, simply due to higher soil moisture. Integration of our results with others' indicates that common species in this grassland are more likely to adjust stomatal aperture in response to near‐term climate change, rather than anatomical traits; this contrasts with apparent effects of changing CO2on plant anatomy over evolutionary time. Future studies should assess how plant responses to drought may be constrained by the apparent shift from tolerance (via low turgor loss point) to avoidance (via stomatal regulation and/or access to deeper soil moisture).
Multidimensional trait frameworks are increasingly used to understand plant strategies for growth and survival. However, it is unclear if frameworks developed at a global level can be applied in local communities and how well these frameworks—based largely on plant morphological traits—align with plant physiology and response to stress.
We tested the ability of an integrated framework of plant form and function to characterise seedling trait variation and drought response among 22 grasses and forbs common in a semi‐arid grassland. We measured above‐ground and below‐ground traits, and survival to explore how drought response is linked to three trait dimensions (resource conservation, microbial collaboration, and plant size) associated with the framework as well as non‐morphological dimensions (e.g. physiological traits) that are under‐represented in global trait frameworks.
We found support for three globally‐recognised axes representing trade‐offs in strategies associated with tissue investment (leaf nitrogen, leaf mass per area, root tissue density), below‐ground resource uptake (root diameter, specific root length), and size (shoot mass). However, in contrast to global patterns, above‐ground and below‐ground resource conservation gradients were oppositely aligned: root tissue density was positively correlated with leaf N rather than leaf mass per area. This likely reflects different investment strategies of annual and perennial herbaceous species, as fast‐growing annual species invested in lower density roots and less nitrogen‐rich leaves to maximise plant‐level carbon assimilation. Species with longer drought survival minimised water loss through small above‐ground size and low leaf‐level transpiration rates, and drought survival was best predicted by a principal component axis representing plant size.
Contrary to our expectations, drought survival in seedlings did not align with the conservation or collaboration axes suggesting that seedlings with different functional strategies can achieve similar drought survival, as long as they minimise water loss. Our results also show that within local communities, expected trait relationships could be decoupled as some plant groups achieve similar performance through different trait combinations. The effectiveness of species mean trait values in predicting drought response highlights the value of trait‐based methods as a versatile tool for understanding ecological processes locally across various ecosystems.
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Xylem anatomy and function have large implications for plant growth as well as survival during drought, but the impact of nutrient limitation on xylem is not fully understood. This study examines the pygmy forest in California, a plant community that experiences negligible water stress but is severely stunted by low‐nutrient and acidic soil, to investigate how nutrient limitation affects xylem function.
Thirteen key anatomical and hydraulic traits of stems of four species were compared between pygmy forest plants and nearby conspecifics growing on richer soil.
Resistance to cavitation (P50), a critical trait for predicting survival during drought, had highly species‐specific responses: in one species, pygmy plants had a 26% decrease in cavitation resistance compared to higher‐nutrient conspecifics, while in another species, pygmy plants had a 56% increase in cavitation resistance. Other traits responded to nutrient limitation more consistently: pygmy plants had smaller xylem conduits and higher leaf‐specific conductivity (
KL) than conspecific controls.
Edaphic stress, even in the absence of water stress, altered xylem structure and thus had substantial impacts on water transport. Importantly, nutrient limitation shifted cavitation resistance in a species‐specific and unpredictable manner; this finding has implications for the assessment of cavitation resistance in other natural systems.
Climate change is stressing many forests around the globe, yet some tree species may be able to persist through acclimation and adaptation to new environmental conditions. The ability of a tree to acclimate during its lifetime through changes in physiology and functional traits, defined here as its acclimation potential, is not well known.
We investigated the acclimation potential of trembling aspen
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Trembling aspen functional traits showed high within‐species variation, and osmotic adjustment and carbon isotope discrimination were key determinants for increased drought tolerance in dry sites and in dry years. However, trembling aspen trees at low elevation were pushed past their drought tolerance limit during the severe 2018 drought year, as elevated mortality occurred. Higher specific leaf area during drought was correlated with higher percentages of canopy dieback the following year. Ponderosa pine functional traits showed less within‐species variation, though osmotic adjustment was also a key mechanism for increased drought tolerance. Remarkably, almost all traits varied more year‐to‐year than across elevation in both species.
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