Water management by woody species encompasses characters involved in seeking, transporting and evaporating water. Examples of adaptation of individual characters to water availability are common, but little is known about the adaptability of whole-plant water management. Here we use plant hydration and growth to examine variation in whole-plant water management characteristics within the conifer genus Callitris. Using four species that cover the environmental extremes in the Australian continent, we compare seasonal patterns of growth and hydration over 2 years to determine the extent to which species exhibit adaptive variation to the local environment. Detailed measurements of gas exchange in one species are used to produce a hydraulic model to predict changes in leaf water potential throughout the year. This same model, when applied to the remaining three species, provided a close representation of the measured patterns of water potential gradient at all sites, suggesting strong conservation in water management, a conclusion supported by carbon and oxygen isotope measurements in Callitris from across the continent. We conclude that despite its large range in terms of rainfall, Callitris has a conservative water management strategy, characterized by a high sensitivity of growth to rainfall and a delayed (anisohydric) closure of stomata during soil drying.
Brodribb, T., Bowman, D., Grierson, P., Murphy, B., Nichols, S., & Prior, L. (2013). Conservative water management in the widespread conifer genus Callitris. AOB Plants, 5, 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1093/aobpla/plt052