Diurnal courses of leaf conductance and transpiration of mistletoes and their hosts in Central Australia

Research paper by I. Ullmann, O. L. Lange, H. Ziegler, J. Ehleringer, E. -D. Schulze, I. R. Cowan

Indexed on: 01 Dec '85Published on: 01 Dec '85Published in: Oecologia


In Australia, diurnal courses of leaf conductance and transpiration of hemiparasitic mistletoes (Loranthaceae) and their hosts were measured using steady-state porometers under conditions of partial drought and high evaporative demand. The sites spanned a diversity of climatic regions ranging from the subtropical arid zone with winter rainfall, through the subtropical arid zone with summer rainfall to the tropical summer rainfall zone. With one exception (Acacia farnesiana with deciduous leaves), the hosts were trees or shrubs with evergreen, sclerophyllous leaves or phyllodes.The measurements confirm previous observations that mistletoes transpire at higher rates than their hosts. For adult leaves from all of the 18 different host/mistletoe pairs investigated, the daily average leaf conductances were higher in the parasites than in their hosts. The ratios ranged from 1.5 to 7.9. In the most extreme case,Amyema maidenii had a daily rate of water loss 8.9 times higher than its hostAcacia cowleana. Hoever, the parasites did not exhibit unlimited transpiration. Despite high water loss rates, leaf conductance showed large and consistent changes during the course of the day, indicating definite stomatal regulation. The typical diurnal pattern of conductance in both mistletoes and hosts consisted of an early morning peak followed by a continuous decrease throughout the remainder of the day. There was no abrupt decrease in leaf conductance of the parasites that might be interpreted as a threshold response with respect to internal water potential. In most cases, the continuous stomatal closure occurred without substantial changes in leaf water potential over a time span of several hours. The decrease in leaf conductance was correlated with an increase in leaf-to-air water vapor difference, which was associated with increasing leaf temperatures. It seems probable that external humidity plays a major role in the stomatal response. Diurnal courses of leaf conductance of the host/parasite pairs usually showed similar general patterns, even when the absolute rates were quite different. Thus, mistletoes not only control their water loss by stomatal action but this regulation seems to occur in coordination with the stomatal response of their hosts.The integrated mistletoe/host system must also endure severe drought conditions. Controlled water use is necessary for long-term survival of the host. Assuming stomatal behavior in the host is well adapted to ensure its existence, then similar performance in the mistletoe would promote survival of both host and parasite.