Multiple strategies for drought survival among woody plant species

Alexandria L. Pivovaroff, Sarah C. Pasquini, Mark E. De Guzman, Karrin P. Alstad, Jenessa S. Stemke, Louis S. Santiago

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114 Scopus citations


Drought-induced mortality and regional dieback of woody vegetation are reported from numerous locations around the world. Yet within any one site, predicting which species are most likely to survive global change-type drought is a challenge. We studied the diversity of drought survival traits of a community of 15 woody plant species in a desert-chaparral ecotone. The vegetation was a mix of chaparral and desert shrubs, as well as endemic species that only occur along this margin. This vegetation boundary has large potential for drought-induced mortality because nearly all species are at the edge of their range. Drought survival traits studied were vulnerability to drought-induced xylem cavitation, sapwood capacitance, deciduousness, photosynthetic stems, deep roots, photosynthetic responses to leaf water potential and hydraulic architecture. Drought survival strategies were evaluated as combinations of traits that could be effective in dealing with drought. The large variation in seasonal predawn water potential of leaves and stem xylem ranged from -6·82 to -0·29 MPa and -6·92 to -0·27 MPa, respectively. The water potential at which photosynthesis ceases ranged from -9·42 to -3·44 MPa. Architecture was a determinant of hydraulic traits, with species supporting large leaf area per sapwood area exhibiting high rates of water transport, but also xylem that is vulnerable to drought-induced cavitation. Species with more negative midday leaf water potential during the growing season also showed access to deeper water sources based on hydrogen isotope analysis. Drought survival mechanisms comprised of drought deciduousness, photosynthetic stems, tolerance of low minimum seasonal tissue water potential and vulnerability to drought-induced xylem cavitation thus varied orthogonally among species, and promote a diverse array of drought survival strategies in an arid ecosystem of considerable floristic complexity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-526
Number of pages10
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 British Ecological Society.


  • Climate change
  • Drought-induced mortality
  • Hydraulic conductance
  • Mediterranean-type ecosystems
  • Photosynthesis
  • Plant water potential
  • Transpiration
  • Xylem cavitation


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