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Free Content Functional variation of leaf succulence in a cold rainforest epiphyte

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Background and aims – Succulence, a common attribute of floras in dry regions and of species living in microenvironments with transient water shortage, has been typically viewed as an adaptive plant feature for surviving in (semi-)arid conditions. The existence of leaf succulence in a temperate cold rainforest challenges the view of its adaptive value. We studied leaf functional variation in Sarmienta repens Ruiz & Pav. (Gesneriaceae), an epiphyte living in the Valdivian forest of southern Chile.

Material and methods – We measured leaf thickness, absolute leaf water content, specific leaf area and leaf anatomy (epidermis, palisade parenchyma, and spongy parenchyma) in two distinct light microenvironments: shaded understory versus border of canopy gaps. We also characterized micro-environmental conditions in terms of light availability, temperature and water evaporation.

Key results – We show that leaves from sun conditions, the environment with higher water demand, have lower SLA (specific leaf area), thicker epidermis and store more water due to a thicker spongy parenchyma, than leaves from shade conditions.

Conclusions – We found high phenotypic variation in S. repens at intraspecific level in response to contrasting environmental conditions. This variation reflects a two-fold strategy common in epiphytes: increase water storage and reduce water loss. Furthermore, it suggests that leaf succulence has an adaptive value even in a temperate cold rainforest. We discuss that the occurrence of succulence on a cold rainforest might be explained by a combination of ecological, biogeographic and phylogenetic factors.
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Keywords: FUNCTIONAL TRAIT; LEAF THICKNESS; PUYEHUE NATIONAL PARK; SARMIENTA REPENS RUIZ & PAV; SLA; WATER LOSS; WATER STORAGE

Document Type: Regular Paper

Publication date: 01 July 2013

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  • Plant Ecology and Evolution (a continuation of Belgian Journal of Botany, incorporating Systematics and Geography of Plants) is an international journal devoted to ecology, phylogenetics and systematics of all 'plant' groups in the traditional sense (including algae, cyanobacteria, fungi, myxomycetes), also covering related fields such as comparative and developmental morphology, conservation biology, ecophysiology, evolution, phytogeography, pollen and spores, population biology, and vegetation studies. It is published by the Royal Botanical Society of Belgium and the Botanic Garden Meise and contains original research papers, review articles, checklists, short communications and book reviews.

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