Photoinhibition under drought and high light loads in New Zealand's divaricate shrubs
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
A question that has plagued New Zealand botanists for many years is the occurrence of the divaricate growth form in several different plant families, and what selection pressure could have led to such parallel evolution. One prominent theory is that the divaricate habit is an adaptation to climatic extremes. This study aims to test if the 'self-shading' growth form of divaricates protects their internal leaves from photoinhibition under physiological drought and high irradiance. By being able to forego the costs of maintaining photoprotective mechanisms, they should have greater carbon gain than their non-divaricate congeners under these conditions. To test if divaricates are protected from the detrimental effects of photoinhibition, the water potentials, pigment and vitamin E concentrations, and photosynthetic rates of two divaricates species in their natural habitat were measured. Additionally, these parameters were recorded for the same divaricate species and their non-divaricate congeners under glasshouse conditions. In the field there were clear differences in several key parameters between divaricates under different levels of irradiance and water availability, and in most cases there was clear evidence of photoinbition. In the glasshouse, the maximum photosynthetic rates were significantly higher in divaricate leaves than in non-divaricate leaves, but there were no clear differences in the avoidance of photoinhibition between divaricates and non-divaricates. Interestingly, more pronounced responses to the different treatments were observed between genera than between the growth forms in the field and glasshouse experiments. The presence of photoinhibition and photoprotective mechanisms in divaricate leaves does not support the theory that the divaricate habit evolved as a physiological response to extreme climate conditions. The absence of a strong difference in the amount of photoinhibition between divariacte and non-divaricate congeners mean that high irradiance and drought stress are unlikely to have been a key factor in the evolution of the divaricate habit. That the within genus physiologies are more similar than within the growth forms would indicate that the divaricate habit possibly evolved after the evolution of the physiological responses of the genera.