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Seasonal effects on leaf gas exchange and water relations were compared for Avicennia germinans, a true mangrove, and Conocarpus erectus, a mangrove associate, at coastal sites in northern Venezuela. On the Ciénega el Ostional at Chichiriviche, A. germinans was most abundant around lagoons on the seaward side of the vegetation‐free alluvial sand plain. C. erectus was the dominant shrub in inland communities, but the two species co‐occurred on vegetation islands at the landward edge of the alluvial plain. On the vegetation islands of the Ciénega el Ostional, gas exchange in A. germinans (a species with foliar salt glands) was less severely curtailed in the dry season compared with the rainy season than was gas exchange in C. erectus (a species lacking salt glands). Average rates of photosynthesis at near‐saturating light intensities and total diurnal CO2 uptake were reduced in the dry season to 69 and 61%, respectively, of their values in the rainy for A. germinans, but to 48 and 30%, respectively, of their rainy‐season values for C. erectus. Similarly, stomatal conductance and transpirational water loss were more reduced in the dry season for C. erectus than for A. germinans, with the result that C. erectus showed a 3.4‐fold increase in water‐use efficiency in the dry season compared with the rainy season. The importance of the soil environment in determining plant gas‐exchange Patterns was evidenced by large seasonal shifts in dawn xylem tension for the two species (which increased from 1.34 MPa in the rainy season to 5.50 MPa in the dry season for A. germinans, and from 0.40 to 5.78 MPa for C. erectus). These values reflected changes in the soil environment caused by inundation of the upper soil layers by fresh water in the rainy season and a progressive increase in salt concentrations (to almost twice those in sea water) by evaporation from the soil in the dry season. Large changes in xylem tension were observed for both species during individual day–night cycles, reaching a maximum of 2.36 MPa for A. germinans. For C. erectus, the magnitude of these day‐night changes was greatly reduced in the dry season, consistent with its very low transpiration rates at this time of year. Leaf‐cell osmotic pressures also tended to be higher in A. germinans than C. erectus (attaining a maximum of 8.3 MPa for A. germinans in the dry season), and were related to the more seaward distribution of the true mangrove on the alluvial plain. Whereas leaves of A. germinans did not show any changes in succulence, leaf succulence in C. erectus increased with leafage and was slightly higher in the dry season than the rainy season. The more succulent leaves also had higher cell‐sap osmotic pressures and NaCl concentrations. The most succulent leaves of C. erectus were observed for exposed shrubs growing on the shoreline. During the dry season, these shoreline plants showed high rates of gas exchange and low values for dawn xylem tension (0.89 MPa), indicating that they had access to relatively non‐saline water from the shallow water table. On individual plants, exposed shoots had more succulent leaves and higher osmotic pressure and NaCl concentrations than sheltered leaves, demonstrating the importance of foliar absorption of salt borne in sea spray for the ionic relations of C. erectus. Thus, although the distribution of C. erectus is centred on brackish‐water zones, this species can apparently extend from habitats with permanent access to a shallow water table through to areas where it is seasonally exposed to low soil water potentials and high salt concentrations in the substratum. Copyright © 1989, Wiley Blackwell. All rights reserved

Original publication




Journal article


New Phytologist

Publication Date





293 - 307