Stem and leaf gas exchange and their responses to fire in a north Australian tropical savanna

Authors

  • LUCAS A. CERNUSAK,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Science and Primary Industries, Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia and
      Lucas A. Cernusak. E-mail: cernusakl@si.edu
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    • *

      Present address: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, PO Box 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancon, Republic of Panama.

  • LINDSAY B. HUTLEY,

    1. School of Science and Primary Industries, Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia and
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  • JASON BERINGER,

    1. School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia
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  • NIGEL J. TAPPER

    1. School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia
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Lucas A. Cernusak. E-mail: cernusakl@si.edu

ABSTRACT

We measured stem CO2 efflux and leaf gas exchange in a tropical savanna ecosystem in northern Australia, and assessed the impact of fire on these processes. Gas exchange of mature leaves that flushed after a fire showed only slight differences from that of mature leaves on unburned trees. Expanding leaves typically showed net losses of CO2 to the atmosphere in both burned and unburned trees, even under saturating irradiance. Fire caused stem CO2 efflux to decline in overstory trees, when measured 8 weeks post-fire. This decline was thought to have resulted from reduced availability of C substrate for respiration, due to reduced canopy photosynthesis caused by leaf scorching, and to priority allocation of fixed C towards reconstruction of a new canopy. At the ecosystem scale, we estimated the annual above-ground woody-tissue CO2 efflux to be 275 g C m−2 ground area year−1 in a non-fire year, or approximately 13% of the annual gross primary production.

We contrasted the canopy physiology of two co-dominant overstory tree species, one of which has a smooth bark on its branches capable of photosynthetic re-fixation (Eucalyptus miniata), and the other of which has a thick, rough bark incapable of re-fixation (Eucalyptus tetrodonta). Eucalyptus miniata supported a larger branch sapwood cross-sectional area in the crown per unit subtending leaf area, and had higher leaf stomatal conductance and photosynthesis than E. tetrodonta. Re-fixation by photosynthetic bark reduces the C cost of delivering water to evaporative sites in leaves, because it reduces the net C cost of constructing and maintaining sapwood. We suggest that re-fixation allowed leaves of E. miniata to photosynthesize at higher rates than those of E. tetrodonta, while the two invested similar amounts of C in the maintenance of branch sapwood.

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