Responses to flooding and drying in seedlings of a common Australian desert floodplain shrub: Muehlenbeckia florulenta Meisn. (tangled lignum)
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We investigated the effects of flooding and drying over 6 months on growth and biomass allocation in seedlings of Muehlenbeckia florulenta Meisn. (tangled lignum), a common and widely distributed shrub of Australia's desert floodplains.We sought to determine if lignum seedlings respond to flooding or drying by altering traits or allocation patterns or instead display fixed patterns of development. Since desert floodplains are highly unpredictable and heterogeneous environments, we hypothesised that adaptive phenotypic plasticity is unlikely to have developed or be advantageous in seedlings of this species as environmental state changes are highly variable in their timing and duration and plants risk being caught out of kilter with environmental conditions. To test this,we conducted a glasshouse experiment in which lignum seedlings, grown in both clay and sandy sediments, were subjected to a range of hydrological conditions over a period of 6 months. Lignum seedlings exhibited considerable tolerance of both flooding and drying in our experiment and no mortalitywas observed. Growthwas significantly reduced by flooding, however, and seedlings displayed extremely delayed development rather than plasticity in overall biomass allocation or any of the specific morphological variables we measured. Lignum seedlings were considerably more tolerant of drying than flooding and responded plastically by reducing leaf area ratios through reductions in specific leaf areas and leaf production and expansion. Sediment type had little effect on seedling development. Our results indicate that surface water hydrology is likely to be a major determinant of recruitment patterns in this ecologically significant species.
Environmental and Experimental Botany