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Aquatic Biology

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AB 6:67-75 (2009)  -  DOI:

Xylem potential- and water content-breakpoints in two wetland forbs: indicators of drought resistance in emergent hydrophytes

Brant W. Touchette1,2,*, Adam R. Frank2,3

1Center for Environmental Studies, and 2Department of Biology, Elon University, Elon, North Carolina 27244, USA
3Present address: Biology Program, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695, USA

ABSTRACT: Freshwater wetlands commonly occur along the boundaries between terrestrial upland and deep open-water systems, and are consequently prone to dynamic and often highly variable hydrological regimes. Physiological adaptations to drought would be advantageous in emergent vegetation, as wetlands are often susceptible to short periods of water scarcity through seasonal declines in precipitation and/or surface water runoff. This study used 15 l microcosms to examine xylem water potential (ψxylem)- and tissue water content (θ)-breakpoints in 2 wetland forbs (Justicia americana and Saururus cernuus) to determine how these plants respond to short-term (2 wk) water deficits. Overall, treatment responses by these forbs included reductions in both θ and ψxylem during the second week of drought, followed by rapid recoveries of θ and ψxylem within a few days of water repletion. Rapid tissue-water recovery, following extreme water deficits (soil moisture levels <3%), is beneficial to plants residing in areas prone to intense water fluctuations. Furthermore, while θ and ψxylem breakpoints in S. cernuus occurred as soil moisture levels fell below 12% (ca. –800 kPa soil water potential), breakpoints for J. americana occurred at considerably lower soil moisture levels (ca. 7 and 10% soil water content for θ and ψxylem, respectively; or less than –1500 kPa soil water potential). The lower breakpoints observed in J. americana were comparable to values reported for terrestrial grasses, including species adapted to dryer, xeric conditions. Therefore, the results from this study suggest that some wetland forbs are physiologically adapted to environments that undergo rapid changes in water hydrology, including the ability to tolerate short-term water scarcity comparable to dryer upland systems.

KEY WORDS: Wetlands · Drought · Water potential · Xylem breakpoint · Plant–water relations

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Cite this article as: Touchette BW, Frank AR (2009) Xylem potential- and water content-breakpoints in two wetland forbs: indicators of drought resistance in emergent hydrophytes. Aquat Biol 6:67-75.

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