Contrasting patterns of leaf water potential and gas exchange responses to drought in seedlings of tropical rainforest species



  • 1 The leaf gas exchange and water potential (Ψw) responses to a soil drying cycle and to increasing atmospheric water vapour pressure deficit were compared in seedlings of three tropical rainforest canopy species in a growth chamber.
  • 2Eperuafalcata Aub. presented an anisohydric behaviour in relation to soil drought. The decrease in predawn Ψw at the beginning of the drying cycle was accompanied by a more pronounced decrease in midday Ψw. Stomatal closure occurred from a volumetric soil water content (Θ) of 0·1 m3 m−3, which corresponded to approximately one third of the available soil water.
  • 3 Diplotropispurpurea (Rich.) Amsh. displayed an isohydric behaviour. Midday Ψw did not decrease – and the difference between predawn and midday Ψw did not increase – over a large range of Θ (to less than 0·1 m3 m−3). Stomatal conductance (gs) was more sensitive to soil drought than in Eperua.
  • 4 A unique behaviour was found in Virola michelii: Heckel. Midday Ψw remained remarkably stable, and close to predawn Ψw, over the drying cycle as long as leaves did not dry, and gs was extremely sensitive to soil drought. These results led us to postulate the existence of a homeostatic regulation of Ψw in Virola.
  • 5 The three species differed in their stomatal sensitivity to atmospheric drought. Eperua was the least and Diplotropis the most sensitive. Virola, even though extremely sensitive to soil drought, displayed an intermediate sensitivity of gs to atmospheric drought.
  • 6 These findings suggest that the survival of Eperua, Diplotropis and Virola in the tropical rainforest of French Guiana may depend partly on local hydrological conditions.