Isohydric species are not necessarily more carbon limited than anisohydric species during drought

N. Garcia-Forner, C. Biel, R. Savé, J. Martínez-Vilalta

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25 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 The Author. Isohydry (i.e., strong regulation of leaf water potential, ψl) is commonly associated with strict stomatal regulation of transpiration under drought, which in turn is believed to minimize hydraulic risk at the expense of reduced carbon assimilation. Hence, the iso/ anisohydric classification has been widely used to assess drought resistance and mortality mechanisms across species, with isohydric species being hypothetically more prone to carbon starvation and anisohydric species more vulnerable to hydraulic failure. These hypotheses and their underlying assumptions, however, have rarely been tested under controlled, experimental conditions. Our objective is to assess the physiological mechanisms underlying drought resistance differences between two co-occurring Mediterranean forest species with contrasting drought responses: Phillyrea latifolia L. (anisohydric and more resistant to drought) and Quercus ilex L. (isohydric and less drought resistant). A total of 100 large saplings (50 per species) were subjected to repeated drought treatments for a period of 3 years, after which Q. ilex showed 18% mortality whereas no mortality was detected in P. latifolia. Relatively isohydric behavior was confirmed for Q. ilex, but higher vulnerability to cavitation in this species implied that estimated embolism levels were similar across species (12-52% in Q. ilex vs ~30% in P. latifolia). We also found similar seasonal patterns of stomatal conductance and assimilation between species. If anything, the anisohydric P. latifolia tended to show lower assimilation rates than Q. ilex under extreme drought. Similar growth rates and carbon reserves dynamics in both species also suggests that P. latifolia was as carbon-constrained as Q. ilex. Increasing carbon reserves under extreme drought stress in both species, concurrent with Q. ilex mortality, suggests that mortality in our study was not triggered by carbon starvation. Our results warn against making direct connections between ψl regulation, stomatal behavior and the mechanisms of droughtinduced mortality in plants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-455
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Carbon constraints
  • Drought resistance
  • Holm oak forest
  • Hydraulic risk
  • Stomatal behavior.


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