Document Type

Dissertation

Department

Biology

First Advisor's Name

Steven F. Oberbauer

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Bradley C. Bennett

Third Advisor's Name

David W. Lee

Fourth Advisor's Name

Jack B. Fisher

Fifth Advisor's Name

Leonel da Silveira Lobo O'Reilly Sternberg

Keywords

salinity tolerance, pteridophyte, water potential, xylem, guttation, chlorophyll fluorescence

Date of Defense

3-24-2009

Abstract

Equisetum giganteum L., a giant horsetail, is one of the largest living members of an ancient group of non-flowering plants with a history extending back 377 million years. Its hollow upright stems grow to over 5 m in height. Equisetum giganteum occupies a wide range of habitats in southern South America. Colonies of this horsetail occupy large areas of the Atacama river valleys, including those with sufficiently high groundwater salinity to significantly reduce floristic diversity. The purpose of this research was to study the ecophysiological and biomechanical properties that allow E. giganteum to successfully colonize a range of habitats, varying in salinity and exposure. Stem ecophysiological behavior was measured via steady state porometry (stomatal conductance), thermocouple psychrometry (water potential), chlorophyll fluorescence, and ion specific electrodes (xylem fluid solutes). Stem biomechanical properties were measured via a 3-point bending apparatus and cross sectional imaging. Equisetum giganteum stems exhibit mechanical characteristics of semi-self-supporting plants, requiring mutual support or support of other vegetation when they grow tall. The mean elastic moduli (4.3 Chile, 4.0 Argentina) of E. giganteum in South America is by far the largest measured in any living horsetail. Stomatal behavior of E. giganteum is consistent with that of typical C3 vascular plants, although absolute values of maximum late morning stomatal conductance are very low in comparison to typical plants from mesic habitats. The internode stomata exhibit strong light response. However, the environmental sensitivity of stomatal conductance appeared less in young developing stems, possibly due to higher cuticular conductance. Exclusion of sodium (Na) and preferential accumulation of potassium (K) at the root level appears to be the key mechanism of salinity tolerance in E. giganteum. Overall stomatal conductance and chlorophyll fluorescence were little affected by salinity, ranging from very low levels up to half strength seawater. This suggests a high degree of salinity stress tolerance. The capacity of E. giganteum to adapt to a wide variety of environments in southern South America has allowed it to thrive despite tremendous environmental changes during their long tenure on Earth.

Identifier

FI10022522

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