Evolutionary History Underlies Plant Physiological Responses to Global Change Since the Last Glacial Maximum

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Katie M. Becklin1, Juliana S Medeiros2, Kayla R. Sale1 and Joy K. Ward1, (1)University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States, (2)Holden Arboretum, Kirtland, OH, United States
Assessing family and species-level variation in physiological responses to global change across geologic time is critical for understanding factors that underlie changes in species distributions and community composition. Ancient plant specimens preserved within packrat middens are invaluable in this context since they allow for comparisons between co-occurring plant lineages. Here we used modern and ancient plant specimens preserved within packrat middens from the Snake Range, NV to investigate the physiological responses of a mixed montane conifer community to global change since the last glacial maximum. We used a conceptual model to infer relative changes in stomatal conductance and maximum photosynthetic capacity from measures of leaf carbon isotopes, stomatal characteristics, and leaf nitrogen content. Our results indicate that most of the sampled taxa decreased stomatal conductance and/or photosynthetic capacity from glacial to modern times. However, plant families differed in the timing and magnitude of these physiological responses. Additionally, leaf-level responses were more similar within plant families than within co-occurring species assemblages. This suggests that adaptation at the level of leaf physiology may not be the main determinant of shifts in community composition, and that plant evolutionary history may drive physiological adaptation to global change over recent geologic time.