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Keywords:

  • Coastal sand dune;
  • Predictive biogeography;
  • Predictive modelling;
  • Seasonal water balance;
  • Water deficit
  • Dyer (1967)

Abstract. Scaevola plumieri is an important pioneer on many tropical and subtropical sand dunes, forming a large perennial subterranean plant with only the tips of the branches emerging above accreting sand. In South Africa it is the dominant pioneer on sandy beaches along the east coast, less abundant on the south coast and absent from the southwest and west coasts. Transpiration rates (E) of S. plumieri are predictably related to atmospheric vapour pressure deficit under a wide range of conditions and can therefore be predicted from measurement of ambient temperature and relative humidity. Scaling measurements of E at the leaf level to the canopy level has been demonstrated previously. Using a geographic information system, digital maps of regional climatic variables were used to calculate digital maps of potential transpiration from mean monthly temperature and relative humidity values, effectively scaling canopy level transpiration rates to a regional level. Monthly potential transpiration was subtracted from the monthly median rainfall to produce a map of mean monthly water balance. Seasonal growth was correlated with seasonal water balance. Localities along the coast with water deficits in summer corresponded with the recorded absence of S. plumieri, which grows and reproduces most actively in the summer months. This suggests that reduced water availability during the summer growth period limits the distribution of S. plumieri along the southwest coast, where water deficits develop in summer. Temperature is also important in limiting the distribution of S. plumieri on the southwest coast of South Africa through its effects on the growth and phenology of the plant.