Water stress tolerance of shrubs in Mediterranean-type climate regions: convergence of fynbos and succulent Karoo communities with California shrub communities

22 November 2010

Mediterranean-type climate regions are highly biodiverse and predicted to be particularly sensitive to climate change. Shrubs of the mediterranean-type climate region of South Africa are highly threatened, and their response to water stress has been comparatively little studied. Resistance to water stress induced xylem cavitation (P50) and xylem specifi c hydraulic conductivity (Ks) were measured in 15 shrub species from fynbos and succulent karoo communities of South Africa. Species displayed a fivefold variation in cavitation resistance (P50 of −1.9 to −10.3 MPa) with succulent karoo species displaying greater interspecific variability in P50 than fynbos species. Principal components analysis (including P50, minimum seasonal water potential, Ks, and xylem density) showed the response to water stress in fynbos species to be similar to chaparral species from the mediterranean-type climate region of California. The data suggest convergence of community and species-specific water stress “strategies” between these mediterranean-type climate regions with respect to their xylem traits. On the basis of the current study and reported plant death and dieback in these regions, woody species within the fynbos may be more susceptible to climate warming and drying than those within the succulent karoo that appear to be utilizing more diverse xylem strategies in response to water stress.