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Bayerischen Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (2000)

Plant size and intraspecific variability in vascular epiphytes

Schmidt Gerold

Titre : Plant size and intraspecific variability in vascular epiphytes

Auteur : Gerold Schmidt

Université de soutenance : Bayerischen Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

Grade : Doktorgrade 2000

A central objective of many ecophysiological investigations is the establishment of mechanistic explanations for plant distributions in time and space. The important, albeit mostly ignored, question arises as to the nature of the organisms that should be used as representative in pertinent experiments. I suggest that it is essential to use a “demographic approach” in physiological ecology, because physiological parameters such as photosynthetic capacity (PC, determined under non-limiting conditions with the oxygen electrode) may change considerably with plant size. Moreover, as shown for nine epiphyte species covering the most important taxonomic groups, the intraspecific variability in PC was almost always higher than the interspecific variability when comparing only large individuals. In situ studies with the epiphytic bromeliad V. sanguinolenta revealed that besides physiological parameters (such as PC) almost all morphological, anatomical and other physiological leaf parameters studied changed with plant size as well. Likewise, important processes proved to be sizedependent on whole-plant level. For example, long-term water availability was clearly improved in large specimens compared to smaller conspecifics due to the increased efficiency of the tanks to bridge rainless periods. As model calculations on whole-plant level for V. sanguinolenta under natural conditions have shown photosynthetic leaf carbon gain as well as respiratory losses of heterotrophic plant parts scaled with plant size. The resulting area related annual carbon balances were similar for plants of varying size, which corresponded to observations of size-independent (and low) relative growth rates in situ. Under favorable conditions in the greenhouse, however, small V. sanguinolenta exhibited surprisingly high relative growth rates, similar to annuals, which clearly contradicts the prevalent, but barely tested notion of epiphytes as inherently slow growing plants and simultaneously illustrates the profound resource limitations that epiphytes are subjected to in the canopy of a seasonal rain forest. From habitat conditions it seems that size-related differences in water availability are the driving force behind the observed size-dependent ecophysiological changes : the larger an epiphyte grows the more independent it is with regard to precipitation patterns. In conclusion, the results strongly emphasize the need to treat plant size as an important source of intraspecific variability and thus urge researchers to consider plant size in the design of ecophysiological experiments with vascular epiphytes.


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