Water redistribution determines photosynthetic responses to warming and drying in two polar mosses

Daniel E. Stanton, Morgane Merlin, Gary Bryant, Marilyn C. Ball

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Predicting impacts of climate change requires an understanding of the sensitivity of species to temperature, including conflated changes in humidity. Physiological responses to temperature and clump-to-air vapour pressure difference (VPD) were compared in two Antarctic moss species, Ceratodon purpureus (Hedw.) Brid. and Schistidium antarctici (Cardot) L.I. Savicz & Smirnova. Temperatures from 8 to 24°C had no significant effects on photosynthesis or recovery from drying, whereas high VPD accelerated drying. In Schistidium, which lacks internal conduction structures, shoots dried more slowly than the clump, and photosynthesis ceased at high shoot relative water content (RWC), behaviour consistent with a strategy of drought avoidance although desiccation tolerant. In contrast, shoots of Ceratodon have a central vascular core, but dried more rapidly than the clump. These results imply that cavitation of the hydroid strand enables hydraulic isolation of extremities during rapid drying, effectively slowing water loss from the clump. Ceratodon maintained photosynthetic activity during drying to lower shoot RWC than Schistidium, consistent with a strategy of drought tolerance. These ecophysiological characteristics may provide a functional explanation for the differential distribution of Schistidium and Ceratodon along moisture gradients in Antarctica. Thus, predicting responses of non-vascular vegetation to climate change at high latitudes requires greater focus on VPD and hydraulics than temperature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-186
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Plant Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • Antarctic bryophytes
  • Ceratodon
  • Schistidium
  • VPD.
  • climate change
  • hydraulics
  • temperature response

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