In seasonally dry tropical forest regions, drought avoidance during the dry season coupled with high assimilation rates in the wet season is hypothesized to be an advantageous strategy for forest trees in regions with severe and long dry seasons. In contrast, where dry seasons are milder, drought tolerance coupled with a conservative resource-use strategy is expected to maximize carbon assimilation throughout the year. Tests of this hypothesis, particularly at the intraspecific level, have been seldom conducted. In this study, we tested the extent to which drought resistance mechanisms and rates of carbon assimilation have evolved under climates with varying dry season length and severity within Quercus oleoidesCham. and Schlect., a tropical dry forest species that is widely distributed in Central America. For this purpose, we conducted a greenhouse experiment where seedlings originating from five populations that vary in rainfall patterns were grown under different watering treatments. Our results revealed that populations from xeric climates with more severe dry seasons exhibited large mesophyllous leaves (with high specific leaf area, SLA), and leaf abscission in response to drought, consistent with a drought-avoidance strategy. In contrast, populations from more mesic climates with less severe dry seasons had small and thick sclerophyllous leaves with low SLA and reduced water potential at the turgor loss point (πtlp), consistent with a drought-tolerance strategy. Mesic populations also showed high plasticity in πtlp in response to water availability, indicating that osmotic adjustment to drought is an important component of this strategy. However, populations with mesophyllous leaves did not have higher maximum carbon assimilation rates under well-watered conditions. Furthermore, SLA was negatively associated with mass-based photosynthetic rates, contrary to expectations of the leaf economics spectrum, indicating that drought-resistance strategies are not necessarily tightly coupled with resource-use strategies. Overall, our study demonstrates the importance of considering intraspecific variation in analyses of the vulnerability of tropical trees to climate change.
- drought avoidance
- drought tolerance
- dry tropics
- seasonally dry tropical ecosystems