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Keywords:

  • fog;
  • water relations;
  • redwood;
  • sap flow

ABSTRACT

Fog is a defining feature of the coastal California redwood forest and fog inputs via canopy drip in summer can constitute 30% or more of the total water input each year. A great deal of occult precipitation (fog and light rain) is retained in redwood canopies, which have some of the largest leaf area indices known (Westman & Whittaker, Journal of Ecology 63, 493–520, 1975). An investigation was carried out to determine whether some fraction of intercepted fog water might be directly absorbed through leaf surfaces and if so, the importance of this to the water relations physiology of coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens. An array of complimentary techniques were adopted to demonstrate that fog is absorbed directly by S. sempervirens foliage. Xylem sap transport reversed direction during heavy fog, with instantaneous flow rates in the direction of the soil peaking at approximately 5–7% of maximum transpiration rate. Isotopic analyses showed that up to 6% of a leaf's water content could be traced to a previous night's fog deposition, but this amount varied considerably depending on the age and water status of the leaves. Old leaves, which appear most able to absorb fog water were able to absorb distilled water when fully submersed at an average rate of 0.90 mmol m2 s−1, or about 80% of transpiration rates measured at the leaf level in the field. Sequoia sempervirens has poor stomatal control in response to a drying atmosphere, with rates of water loss on very dry nights up to 40% of midday summer values and rates above 10% being extremely common. Owing to this profligate water use behaviour of S. sempervirens, it appears that fog has a greater role in suppressing water loss from leaves, and thereby ameliorating daily water stress, than in providing supplemental water to foliar tissues per se. Although direct foliar absorption from fog inputs represents only a small fraction of the water used each day, fog's in reducing transpiration and rehydrating leaf tissues during the most active growth periods in summer may allow for greater seasonal carbon fixation and thus contribute to the very fast growth rates and great size of this species.