Physiological strategies of co-occurring oaks in a water- and nutrient-limited ecosystem

Heidi J. Renninger, Nicholas Carlo, Kenneth L. Clark, Karina V.R. Schäfer, Maurizio Mencuccini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Oak species are well suited to water-limited conditions by either avoiding water stress through deep rooting or tolerating water stress through tight stomatal control. In co-occurring species where resources are limited, species may either partition resources in space and/or time or exhibit differing efficiencies in the use of limited resources. Therefore, this study seeks to determine whether two co-occurring oak species (Quercus prinus L. and Quercus velutina Lam.) differ in physiological parameters including photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, water-use (WUE) and nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE), as well as to characterize transpiration and average canopy stomatal responses to climatic variables in a sandy, well-drained and nutrient-limited ecosystem. The study was conducted in the New Jersey Pinelands and we measured sap flux over a 3-year period, as well as leaf gas exchange, leaf nitrogen and carbon isotope concentrations. Both oak species showed relatively steep increases in leaf-specific transpiration at low vapor pressure deficit (VPD) values before maximum transpiration rates were achieved, which were sustained over a broad range in VPD. This suggests tight stomatal control over transpiration in both species, although Q. velutina showed significantly higher leaf-level and canopy-level stomatal conductance than Q. prinus. Average daytime stomatal conductance was positively correlated with soil moisture and both oak species maintained at least 75% of their maximum canopy stomatal conductance at soil moistures in the upper soil layer (0-0.3 m) as low as 0.03 m3 m 3-3. Quercus velutina had significantly higher photosynthetic rates, maximum Rubisco-limited and electron-transport-limited carboxylation rates, dark respiration rates and nitrogen concentration per unit leaf area than Q. prinus. However, both species exhibited similar WUEs and NUEs. Therefore, Q. prinus has a more conservative resource-use strategy, while Q. velutina may need to exploit niches that are locally higher in nutrients and water. Likewise, both species appear to tap deep, stable water sources, highlighting the importance of rooting depth in modeling transpiration and stomatal conductance in many oak ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-173
Number of pages15
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


  • Quercus
  • nitrogen-use efficiency
  • photosynthesis
  • sap flow
  • water-use efficiency

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