The combined effects of a long-term experimental drought and an extreme drought on the use of plant-water sources in a Mediterranean forest

Barbeta A., Mejia-Chang M., Ogaya R., Voltas J., Dawson T.E., Penuelas J. (2014) The combined effects of a long-term experimental drought and an extreme drought on the use of plant-water sources in a Mediterranean forest. Global Change Biology. : 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1111/gcb.12785

Resum:

Vegetation in water-limited ecosystems relies strongly on access to deep water reserves to withstand dry periods. Most of these ecosystems have shallow soils over deep groundwater reserves. Understanding the functioning and functional plasticity of species-specific root systems and the patterns of or differences in the use of water sources under more frequent or intense droughts is therefore necessary to properly predict the responses of seasonally dry ecosystems to future climate. We used stable isotopes to investigate the seasonal patterns of water uptake by a sclerophyll forest on sloped terrain with shallow soils. We assessed the effect of a long-term experimental drought (12 years) and the added impact of an extreme natural drought that produced widespread tree mortality and crown defoliation. The dominant species, Quercus ilex, Arbutus unedo and Phillyrea latifolia, all have dimorphic root systems enabling them to access different water sources in space and time. The plants extracted water mainly from the soil in the cold and wet seasons but increased their use of groundwater during the summer drought. Interestingly, the plants subjected to the long-term experimental drought shifted water uptake toward deeper (10-35 cm) soil layers during the wet season and reduced groundwater uptake in summer, indicating plasticity in the functional distribution of fine roots that dampened the effect of our experimental drought over the long term. An extreme drought in 2011, however, further reduced the contribution of deep soil layers and groundwater to transpiration, which resulted in greater crown defoliation in the drought-affected plants. This study suggests that extreme droughts aggravate moderate but persistent drier conditions (simulated by our manipulation) and may lead to the depletion of water from groundwater reservoirs and weathered bedrock, threatening the preservation of these Mediterranean ecosystems in their current structures and compositions.

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Foliar CO2 in a holm oak forest subjected to 15 years of climate change simulation

Ogaya R., Llusia J., Barbeta A., Asensio D., Liu D., Alessio G.A., Penuelas J. (2014) Foliar CO2 in a holm oak forest subjected to 15 years of climate change simulation. Plant Science. 226: 101-107.
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Doi: 10.1016/j.plantsci.2014.06.010

Resum:

A long-term experimental drought to simulate future expected climatic conditions for Mediterranean forests, a 15% decrease in soil moisture for the following decades, was conducted in a holm oak forest since 1999. Net photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance and leaf water potential were measured from 1999 to 2013 in Quercus ilex and Phillyrea latifolia, two co-dominant species of this forest. These measurements were performed in four plots, two of them received the drought treatment and the two other plots were control plots. The three studied variables decreased with increases in VPD and decreases in soil moisture in both species, but the decrease of leaf water potential during summer drought was larger in P. latifolia, whereas Q. ilex reached higher net photosynthetic rates and stomatal conductance values during rainy periods than P. latifolia. The drought treatment decreased ca. 8% the net photosynthetic rates during the overall studied period in both Q. ilex and P. latifolia, whereas there were just non-significant trends toward a decrease in leaf water potential and stomatal conductance induced by drought treatment. Future drier climate may lead to a decrease in the carbon balance of Mediterranean species, and some shrub species well resistant to drought could gain competitive advantage relative to Q. ilex, currently the dominant species of this forest. © 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.

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Changes in DNA methylation fingerprint of Quercus ilex trees in response to experimental field drought simulating projected climate change

Rico L., Ogaya R., Barbeta A., Penuelas J. (2014) Changes in DNA methylation fingerprint of Quercus ilex trees in response to experimental field drought simulating projected climate change. Plant Biology. 16: 419-427.
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Doi: 10.1111/plb.12049

Resum:

Rapid genetic changes in plants have been reported in response to current climate change. We assessed the capacity of trees in a natural forest to produce rapid acclimation responses based on epigenetic modifications. We analysed natural populations of Quercus ilex, the dominant tree species of Mediterranean forests, using the methylation-sensitive amplified polymorphism (MSAP) technique to assess patterns and levels of methylation in individuals from unstressed forest plots and from plots experimentally exposed to drought for 12 years at levels projected for the coming decades. The percentage of hypermethylated loci increased, and the percentage of fully methylated loci clearly decreased in plants exposed to drought. Multivariate analyses exploring the status of methylation at MSAP loci also showed clear differentiation depending on stress. The PCA scores for the MSAP profiles clearly separated the genetic from the epigenetic structure, and also significantly separated the samples within each group in response to drought. Changes in DNA methylation highlight the large capacity of plants to rapidly acclimate to changing environmental conditions, including trees with long life spans, and our results demonstrate those changes. These changes, although unable to prevent the decreased growth and higher mortality associated with this experimental drought, occurred together with a dampening in such decreases as the long-term treatment progressed. © 2013 German Botanical Society and The Royal Botanical Society of the Netherlands.

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