Ecological and phylogenetic patterns of carbon isotope discrimination in the winter-rainfall flora of the Richtersveld, South Africa
Leaf tissues of vascular plant species from the arid Richtersveld of northern Namaqualand (Succulent Karoo), South Africa, show a great range of variation in carbon isotope discrimination. Analyses of A values for species with obligate C3 metabolism demonstrated that the water use efficiency indicated by these values varies between species and within a species population both between seedlings and mature shrubs and between sites along an aridity gradient. An expected pattern of increasing water use efficiency with greater longevity in these species was not present, however. Only among ephemerals were there taxa with high Δ values associated with low water use efficiency, but these high values were balanced by other ephemeral species with low Δ values comparable to those typical of moderate to long-lived shrubs. The extent to which putative CAM species in the succulent flora rely entirely on nocturnal carbon fixation is highly variable. Species of Crassulaceae and Aloe (Asphodelaceae) relied almost exclusively on CAM photosynthesis, although Crassulaceae from more mesic environments may be CAM-flexible. Succulent-leaved species of Senecio and leaves of stem-succulent Euphorbia were CAM-flexible in their Δ values, while shrubby species of Ceraria (Portulacaceae) appeared to rely primarily on C3 photosynthesis. Variable patterns of reliance on CAM photosynthesis were present in the ecologically dominant Mesembryanthema of the Aizoaceae. Shrubby species of the subfamily Mesembryanthemoideae, although capable of CAM-flexibility in less xeric habitats, relied largely on CAM fixation of carbon in our field sites. Within the subfamily Ruschioideae, there was a wide range of A values indicating species with CAM, CAM flexibility, and primary reliance on C3 photosynthesis. Low Δ values indicative of typical CAM fixation were associated with species with greater longevity, suggesting that a positive correlation may exist between the degree of reliance on CAM photosynthesis and plant life span.