Tree physiology

Seasonal trends in photosynthesis and electron transport during the Mediterranean summer drought in leaves of deciduous oaks.

PMID 25855663


The California Mediterranean savanna has harsh summer conditions with minimal soil moisture, high temperature, high incoming solar radiation and little or no precipitation. Deciduous blue oaks, Quercus douglasii Hook. and Arn., are winter-deciduous obligate phreatophytes, transpiring mostly groundwater throughout the summer drought. The objective of this work is to fully characterize the seasonal trends of photosynthesis in blue oaks as well as the mechanistic relationships between leaf structure and function. We estimate radiative load of the leaves via the FLiES model and perform in situ measurements of leaf water potential, leaf nitrogen content, an index of chlorophyll content (SPAD readings), photosynthetic and electron transport capacity, and instantaneous rates of CO2 assimilation and electron transport. We measured multiple trees over 3 years providing data from a range of conditions. Our study included one individual that demonstrated strong drought stress as indicated by changes in SPAD readings, leaf nitrogen and all measures of leaf functioning. In the year following severe environmental stress, one individual altered foliation patterns on the crown but did not die. In all other individuals, we found that net carbon assimilation and photosynthetic capacity decreased during the summer drought. SPAD values, electron transport rate (ETR) and quantum yield of photosystem II (PSII) did not show a strong decrease during the summer drought. In most individuals, PSII activity and SPAD readings did not indicate leaf structural or functional damage throughout the season. While net carbon assimilation was tightly coupled to stomatal conductance, the coupling was not as tight with ETR possibly due to contributions from photorespiration or other protective processes. Our work demonstrates that the blue oaks avoid structural damage by maintaining the capacity to convert and dissipate incoming solar radiation during the hot summer drought and are effective at fixing carbon by maximizing rates during the mild spring conditions.