Wood anatomical traits as a measure of plant responses to water availability: invasive Acacia mearnsii De Wild. compared with native tree species in fynbos riparian ecotones, South Africa
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Riparian ecotones in the fynbos biome of South Africa are heavily invaded by woody invasive alien species,which are known to reduce water supply to downstream environments. To explore whether variation in species-specific functional traits pertaining to drought-tolerance exist, we investigated wood anatomical traits of key native riparian species and the invasive Acacia mearnsii across different water availability proxies. Wood density, vessel resistance against implosion, vessel lumen diameter and vessel wall thickness were measured. Wood density varied significantly between species, with A. mearnsii having denser wood at sites in rivers with high discharge. As higher wood density is indicative of increased drought tolerance and typical of drier sites, this counter-intuitive finding suggests that increased wood density was more closely related to midday water stress, than streamflow quantity per se. Wood density was positively correlated with vessel resistance against implosion. Higher wood density may also be evidence that A. mearnsii is more resistant against drought-induced cavitation than the studied native species. The observed plastic response of A. mearnsii anatomical traits to variable water availability indicates the ability of this species to persist under various environmental conditions. A possible non-causal relationship between wood anatomy and drought tolerance in these riparian systems is discussed.
- RESEARCH: Esler K