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Ecophysiological plasticity of Amazonian trees to long-term drought

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Episodic multi-year droughts fundamentally alter the dynamics, functioning, and structure of Amazonian forests. However, the capacity of individual plant species to withstand intense drought regimes remains unclear. Here, we evaluated ecophysiological responses from a forest community where we sampled 83 woody plant species during 5 years of experimental drought (throughfall exclusion) in an eastern Amazonian terra firme forest. Overall, the experimental drought resulted in shifts of some, but not all, leaf traits related to photosynthetic carbon uptake and intrinsic water-use efficiency. Leaf δ13C values increased by 2–3‰ within the canopy, consistent with increased diffusional constraints on photosynthesis. Decreased leaf C:N ratios were also observed, consistent with lower investments in leaf structure. However, no statistically significant treatment effects on leaf nitrogen content were observed, consistent with a lack of acclimation in photosynthetic capacity or increased production of nitrogen-based secondary metabolites. The results of our study provide evidence of robust acclimation potential to drought intensification in the diverse flora of an Amazonian forest community. The results reveals considerable ability of several species to respond to intense drought and challenge commonly held perspectives that this flora has attained limited adaptive plasticity because of a long evolutionary history in a favorable and stable climate.

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We thank P. Camargo, M. Moreira, F. Ishida, E. Mazzi, and our colleagues at the LBA-ECO and IPAM-Santarém offices. Financial support for this work was provided partially by a research grant from NASA LBA-Ecology to JRE, LBF, JAB and L.A.M.

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JRE, LAM and DCN designed the study and provided institutional support, TFD and JPHBO collected and processed samples. LAM, JPHBP and TFD analysed the data and wrote the manuscript with contributions from all authors, DCN and PMB provided support to field activities, shared auxiliary data and scientific insights.

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Correspondence to Tomas Ferreira Domingues.

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Communicated by Russell K. Monson.

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Domingues, T.F., Ometto, J.P.H.B., Nepstad, D.C. et al. Ecophysiological plasticity of Amazonian trees to long-term drought. Oecologia 187, 933–940 (2018).

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