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Keywords:

  • cell wall;
  • chloroplast thickness;
  • water use efficiency

ABSTRACT

Abies alba and Abies pinsapo are closely related species with the same ribulose 1·5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) large subunit (rbcL) but contrasting hydraulic traits and mesophyll structure occurring in the Iberian Peninsula under contrasting conditions. As photosynthesis and hydraulic capacities often co-scale, we hypothesize that these species differ in mesophyll conductance to CO2 (gm). gm and key anatomical traits were measured in both species. Drought-adapted population of A. pinsapo has higher photosynthesis than the more mesic population of A. alba, in agreement with its higher hydraulic capacity. However, A. alba exhibits the largest stomatal conductance (gs), and so water use efficiency (WUE) is much higher in A. pinsapo. The differences in photosynthesis were explained by differences in gm, indicating a correlation between hydraulic capacity and gm. We report a case where gm is the main factor limiting photosynthesis in one species (A. alba) when compared with the other one (A. pinsapo). The results also highlight the discrepancy between gm estimates based on anatomical measurements and those based on gas exchange methods, probably due to the very large resistance exerted by cell walls and the stroma in both species. Thus, the cell wall and chloroplast properties in relation to CO2 diffusion constitute a near-future research priority.