Developmental instability and gas exchange responses of a heathland shrub to experimental drought and warming

Laura Llorens, Josep Peñuelas, Bridget Emmett

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    23 Citations (Scopus)


    The effects of predicted climatic changes on the physiological stress of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) were investigated in a field experiment in a heathland of northern Wales (U.K.). In the experiment, drought was increased during the growing season by excluding precipitation, and night warming was created by reducing heat loss. To assess physiological stress, leaf size and leaf fluctuating asymmetry (FA) as integrative measures of stress during leaf development and leaf gas exchange as a classical instantaneous method to detect physiological stress, were measured. Since leaf FA increased with increasing size, comparisons of asymmetries were made for relative rather than absolute asymmetry. Relative leaf FA was calculated as the absolute difference between leaf size (area or width) of left and right halves, corrected for trait size. Drought treatment increased the relative leaf area FA in 2000 and not in 1999, in agreement with a stronger treatment in 2000. Conversely, the warming treatment decreased the relative leaf area FA in 1999 and not in 2000, coinciding with the lower minimum temperatures in the growing season of 1999. Differences in water availability and temperature between years were related with changes in the relative leaf area FA, which were consistent with the treatment effects. In contrast, leaf gas exchange rates and leaf size showed no significant response to the environmental manipulations, although there was a slight decrease of photosynthetic values and leaf size in drought treatments in both years. Leaf FA therefore appeared to be a more sensitive indicator of physiological stress than leaf size or gas exchange measurements. Our results indicate that a future increase in the severity of drought during the growing season will increase physiological stress of V. myrtillus, whereas warming will decrease physiological stress during leaf development because of the alleviation of temperature constraints.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)959-967
    JournalInternational Journal of Plant Sciences
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2002


    • Climate change
    • Developmental instability
    • Drought
    • Fluctuating asymmetry
    • Gas exchange
    • Leaf size
    • Vaccinium myrtillus
    • Warming

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