Drought is an important seedling mortality agent in dry and moist tropical forests, and more severe and frequent droughts are predicted in the future. The effect of drought on leaf gas exchange and seedling survival was tested in a dry-down experiment with four tree species from dry and moist forests in Bolivia. Seedlings were droughted and wilting stage and gas exchange were monitored. Drought led to a gradual reduction of photosynthesis and stomatal conductance over time, whereas respiration and photosynthetic water-use efficiency initially increased with drought and then declined. Seedlings gradually went through the different wilting stages, until they eventually died, but the trajectory differed for the four species. The strong relationship between wilting stage and photosynthesis means that simple field observations can provide valuable information on plant physiological performance. Three different drought strategies were identified. Dry forest species Ceiba samauma shed its leaves and survived. The moist forest species Cariniana ianeirensis postponed drought stress by having low rates of transpiration and high water-use efficiency. Dry forest Astronium urundeuva and moist forest Triplaris americana followed an opportunistic strategy; they are early successional species that can quickly grow to maturity but periodic drought can be lethal. Strikingly, dry and moist forest species did not differ clearly in their drought tolerance strategies.
- moist forest
- dry season