The ability of plants to tolerate and recover from periodic water stress affects their competitive ability, survival, and distribution, leading to shifts in plant communities as environmental conditions change. We investigated the hydraulic traits of two closely related Pinus taxa to assess population and taxonomic variability in plant hydraulic traits. We hypothesized that traits would vary with elevation but exhibit similar traits where taxa co-occurred. We measured predawn and midday leaf pressure potential (Ψp) across three seasons, xylem specific hydraulic conductivity (Ks), and vulnerability to xylem embolism (P50). These were measured on Pinus ponderosa var. brachyptera (Engelm.) Lemmon that occurred at a high elevation site (2770 m), P. arizonica Engelm. at a low elevation site (2135 m), and both species where they co-occurred at the mid-elevation site (2475 m) in the Santa Catalina Mountains of southern Arizona. Plants from the high elevation site had the least negative Ψp and the highest Ks. The two taxa differed from one another when compared between the high and low elevation sites, but they were not different where they co-occurred. The two Pinus taxa show plasticity in their hydraulic traits across sites. Conditions across the elevational gradient appear to lead to a convergent solution in hydraulic traits for these taxa where their ranges overlap but differences in traits where they do not overlap. Increasing aridity in the region could lead to shifts in suitable habitat, reduced water transport ability at range margins, and shifts in population distributions.
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Vol. 67 • No. 4