Comparative water relations of phreatophytes in the sonoran desert of california
Nilsen, Erik T.
Sharifi, M. Rasoul
Rundel, Philip W.
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The seasonal and diurnal water relations were compared among six desert phreatophytes, two evergreen shrubs, and one deciduous shrub. All species were located in one wash woodland in the Sonoran Desert of southern California. There are several mechanisms by which these Phaenicia have adapted to the desert environment. One group of winter-deciduous phreatophytes (Olneya tesota, Prosopis glandulosa, and Acacia greggii) experienced summer midday leaf water potentials below -4.0 MPa. These phreatophytes had a series of physiological mechanisms for tolerating summer water stress, including seasonal and diurnal osmotic adjustment and the maintenance of high leaf conductance at low leaf water potential. Osmotic adjustment of these three phreatophytes was similar to or greater than that of two evergreen species (Larrea tridentata and Simmondsia chinensis). Dalea spinosa, a stem-photosynthetic phreatophyte, avoided water stress by maintaining a very small leaf area. The summer-deciduous phreatophytes (Hyptis emoryi, and Chilopsis linearis) demonstrated mechanisms of drought avoidance such as change in leaf biomass and low summer leaf conductance. Little osmotic adjustment occurred in the summer-deciduous phreatophytes. The phreatophytic species studied in this investigation have evolved adaptations to water stress that are similar to those of deciduous and evergreen shrubs of the Sonoran Desert. Desert phreatophytes are a complex group of species with varied adaptive mechanisms to tolerate or avoid drought and should not be considered simply as a group of species that avoid desert water stress by utilizing deep ground water unavailable to other desert species of drought tolerance and avoidance.