Plant and Soil

, Volume 317, Issue 1–2, pp 17–29 | Cite as

Variability in water use efficiency at the leaf level among Mediterranean plants with different growth forms

  • Hipólito Medrano
  • Jaume Flexas
  • Jeroni Galmés
Regular Article


Assessing natural variability of leaf water use efficiency in plants adapted to extreme conditions of the Mediterranean climate represents an important step in the evaluation of the usefulness of some plant ecophysiological traits under water stress. Eleven Mediterranean species naturally inhabiting the Balearic Islands and corresponding to different growth forms (herbs, semi-deciduous shrubs, woody evergreen shrubs and woody evergreen semi-shrubs) were subject to progressive soil water depletion. Leaf intrinsic water use efficiency was measured by gas exchange at four different degrees of water stress. Under well watered conditions, differences in leaf intrinsic water use efficiency (A N/g s) among growth forms were limited to woody evergreen semi-shrubs, which presented the highest values. Under water stress conditions, differences became more evident, with a trend for an increase in A N/g s from woody evergreen shrubs, through semi-deciduous shrubs and herbaceous to woody evergreen semi-shrubs. The observed variation in A N/g s correlated with several physiological (leaf water potential, soil to leaf hydraulic conductance and stomatal conductance) and morphological (stomatal density) parameters, displaying a general relationship for all growth forms. This suggests that the capacity for withstanding water limitation is adaptive for all Mediterranean species. However, when A N/g s was related to leaf mass area, this relationship was not generally applicable, and depended on growth forms, suggesting that different growth forms display specific morphological adjustments in response to water shortage.


Adaptation Competition Drought Semi-arid ecosystems Stomatal conductance Water stress 



This work was financed by the project PRIB-2004-10144 “Variability in the water-use efficiency by plants: Optimization of water-use” (Conselleria d’Economia, Hisenda i Innovació, Govern de les Illes Balears). JG was granted a post-doctoral fellowship (MEC). Drs Ribas-Carbó and Kane are acknowledged for their helpful comments in previous versions of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

11104_2008_9785_MOESM1_ESM.doc (26 kb)
Supplemental data Soil water content (SWC, as % with respect to control values), pre-dawn leaf water potential (ΨPD), stomatal conductance (gs) and intrinsic water use efficiency (AN/gs) for the 11 selected species under different irrigation treatments: control (CO), mild water stress (MiWS), moderate water stress (MoWS), severe water stress (SeWS) and re-watering (RW). Values are mean ± SE of four replicates (DOC 26.5 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hipólito Medrano
    • 1
  • Jaume Flexas
    • 1
  • Jeroni Galmés
    • 1
  1. 1.Grup de Recerca en Biologia de les Plantes en Condicions MediterràniesUniversitat de les Illes BalearsPalma de MallorcaSpain

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