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Ann Bot. 2009 Jul;104(1):179-88. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcp108. Epub 2009 May 15.

Water-use responses of 'living fossil' conifers to CO2 enrichment in a simulated Cretaceous polar environment.

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Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.



During the Mesozoic, the polar regions supported coniferous forests that experienced warm climates, a CO(2)-rich atmosphere and extreme seasonal variations in daylight. How the interaction between the last two factors might have influenced water use of these conifers was investigated. An experimental approach was used to test the following hypotheses: (1) the expected beneficial effects of elevated [CO(2)] on water-use efficiency (WUE) are reduced or lost during the 24-h light of the high-latitude summer; and (2) elevated [CO(2)] reduces plant water use over the growing season.


Measurements of leaf and whole-plant gas exchange, and leaf-stable carbon isotope composition were made on one evergreen (Sequoia sempervirens) and two deciduous (Metasequoia glyptostroboides and Taxodium distichum) 'living fossil' coniferous species after 3 years' growth in controlled-environment simulated Cretaceous Arctic (69 degrees N) conditions at either ambient (400 micromol mol(-1)) or elevated (800 micromol mol(-1)) [CO(2)].


Stimulation of whole-plant WUE (WUE(P)) by CO(2) enrichment was maintained over the growing season for the three studied species but this pattern was not reflected in patterns of WUE inferred from leaf-scale gas exchange measurements (iWUE(L)) and delta(13)C of foliage (tWUE(L)). This response was driven largely by increased rates of carbon uptake, because there was no overall CO(2) effect on daily whole-plant transpiration or whole-plant water loss integrated over the study period. Seasonal patterns of tWUE(L) differed from those measured for iWUE(L). The results suggest caution against over simplistic interpretations of WUE(P) based on leaf isotopic composition.


The data suggest that the efficiency of whole-tree water use may be improved by CO(2) enrichment in a simulated high-latitude environment, but that transpiration is relatively insensitive to atmospheric CO(2) in the living fossil species investigated.

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