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Arboriculture & Urban Forestry Online
Volume 39, Issue 3 — May 2013

Subtropical–Tropical Urban Tree Water Relations and Drought Stress Response Strategies    (View PDF)

Roger Kjelgren, Daryl Joyce, and David Doley

Abstract: Understanding native habitats of species successful as subtropical and tropical urban trees yield insights into how to minimize urban tree water deficit stress experienced during monsoonal dry periods. Equatorial and montane wet forest species rarely subject to drought are generally absent in subtropical and tropical cities with pronounced monsoonal dry seasons. Species native to monsoonal dry forests appear to have wide environmental tolerances, and are successful as urban trees in many tropical cities. Monsoonal dry forest species have a tendency to be deep rooted to avoid drought, with leaf habits falling along an avoidance to tolerance spectrum. Dry deciduous species, typically found on more fertile soils, maximize growth during the monsoonal wet season with high photosynthesis and transpiration rates, then defoliate to avoid stress during the dry season. Evergreen tree species, typically found on less fertile soils, have a higher carbon investment in leaves that photosynthesize and transpire less year-round than do dry deciduous species. Dry deciduous tree species are more common urban trees than dry evergreen species explicitly due to more ornamental floral displays, but also implicitly due to their ability to adjust timing and duration of defoliation in response to drought. An empirical study of three tropical species exhibiting a range of leaf habits showed isohydric behavior that moderates transpiration and conserves soil water during drying. However, dry evergreen species may be less adaptable to tropical urban conditions of pronounced drought, intense heat, and limited rooting volumes than dry deciduous species with malleable leaf habit.

Keywords: Climate Change; Drought Deciduous; Drought Physiology; Dry Evergreen; Lagerstroemia loudonii; Pterocarpus indicus, Swietenia macrophylla; Urban Forestry; Water Stress; Wet Evergreen

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