The role of desiccation tolerance in determining tree species distributions along the Malay–Thai Peninsula

Authors

  • J. L. Baltzer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Tropical Forest Science – Arnold Arboretum Asia Program, Harvard University Herbaria, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA;
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  • S. J. Davies,

    1. Center for Tropical Forest Science – Arnold Arboretum Asia Program, Harvard University Herbaria, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA;
    2. Center for Tropical Forest Science, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, P.O. Box 0843-03092, Balboa, Panama, Panama;
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  • S. Bunyavejchewin,

    1. Thai National Parks Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Research Office, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900, Thailand; and
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  • N. S. M. Noor

    1. Forest Research Institute Malaysia, Kepong 52109, Selangor, Malaysia
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*Correspondence author. Biology Department, 63B York Street, Mount Allison University, Sackville, NB E4L 1G7, Canada. E-mail: jbaltzer@mta.ca

Summary

  • 1Patterns of water availability are frequently implicated in local and regional tree species distributions. A major floristic and climatic transition from aseasonal to seasonal evergreen tropical forest is the Kangar–Pattani Line (KPL) in the Indo-Sundaic region of Southeast Asia. We hypothesize that differences in species’ drought tolerance will correspond with their distribution with respect to the KPL. Using a common garden study, we assess the role of differences in physiological drought tolerance traits to geographic distributions for 24 tropical tree species in relation to rainfall seasonality.
  • 2Inherent differences in desiccation tolerance of seedlings were quantified as water potentials and relative water contents (RWCs) below which the plant could no longer support living tissue, and plant water relation parameters were measured using pressure–volume analysis. The relationships among these traits were examined using bivariate trait relationships and a principal components analysis (PCA). The physiological traits contributing most to lethal water potential and RWC were assessed using multiple regression analysis.
  • 3Distribution-related differences in all desiccation tolerance and pressure–volume traits were detected both with and without phylogenetic correction. Widespread species that occurred in seasonally dry forests were able to maintain living tissue at more negative water potentials and lower RWCs than were species restricted to aseasonal forests. Likewise, widespread species demonstrated more negative water potentials at turgor loss, more negative saturated osmotic potential, lower symplastic water fraction and higher bulk modulus of elasticity values. Turgor loss point (TLP) and bulk modulus of elasticity were the best predictors of lethal water potential while symplastic water fraction and bulk modulus of elasticity were included as predictors of lethal RWC.
  • 4Inherent differences in physiological traits contributing to drought tolerance are associated with differences in tropical tree species distributions in relation to rainfall seasonality. These results, combined with lack of support for hypothesized historical factors, strongly implicate climate as a determinant of tree species distributions around the KPL.

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