University Of Tasmania

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Leaf water relations reflect canopy phenology rather than leaf life span in Sonoran Desert trees

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 04:19 authored by Gonzalez-Rebeles, G, Terrazas, T, Mendez-Alonzo, R, Paz, H, Timothy BrodribbTimothy Brodribb, Tinoco-Ojanguren, C
Plants from arid environments display covarying traits to survive or resist drought. Plant drought resistance and ability to survive long periods of low soil water availability should involve leaf phenology coordination with leaf and stem functional traits related to water status. This study tested correlations between phenology and functional traits involved in plant water status regulation in 10 Sonoran Desert tree species with contrasting phenology. Species seasonal variation in plant water status was defined by calculating their relative positions along the iso/anisohydric regulation continuum based on their hydroscape areas (HA)—a metric derived from the relationship between predawn and midday water potentials—and stomatal and hydraulic traits. Additionally, functional traits associated with plant water status regulation, including lamina vessel hydraulic diameter (DHL), stem-specific density (SSD) and leaf mass per area (LMA) were quantified per species. To characterize leaf phenology, leaf longevity (LL) and canopy foliage duration (FD) were determined. Hydroscape area was strongly correlated with FD but not with leaf longevity (LL); HA was significantly associated with SSD and leaf hydraulic traits (DHL, LMA) but not with stem hydraulic traits (vulnerability index, relative conductivity); and FD was strongly correlated with LMA and SSD. Leaf physiological characteristics affected leaf phenology when it was described as canopy FD better than when described as LL. Stem and leaf structure and hydraulic functions were not only relevant for categorizing species along the iso/anisohydric continuum but also allowed identifying different strategies of desert trees within the ‘fast–slow’ plant economics spectrum. The results in this study pinpoint the set of evolutionary pressures that shape the Sonoran Desert Scrub physiognomy.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Tree Physiology










School of Natural Sciences


Oxford University Press

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Effects of climate change on Australia (excl. social impacts); Native forests