Journal Article

Photosynthetic Responses of Plant Communities to Sand Burial on the Machair Dune Systems of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland

MARTIN KENT, NIA W. OWEN and M. PAMELA DALE

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 95, issue 5, pages 869-877
Published in print April 2005 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2005 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mci093
Photosynthetic Responses of Plant Communities to Sand Burial on the Machair Dune Systems of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims The effects of both short-term (2 weeks) and long-term (6 weeks) burial on the photosynthetic efficiency of four typical plant sub-communities of the machair sand dunes of the Outer Hebrides are described. Previous studies have examined the photosynthetic responses on individual species rather than the response at the community level.

Methods Three replicate turves from four different sub-community types (foredune grassland, dune slack, three-year fallow and unploughed grassland) were subjected to short- and long-term burial treatments after acclimatisation in an unheated greenhouse for approximately 10 weeks. Three replicate control turves from each sub-community were left unburied. After treatment, photosynthetic rate was measured at 16–20 h and 40–44 h after re-exposure, using an infra-red gas analyser, with standardization by total leaf area for each turf. Effects of sub-community type, burial duration and time since re-exposure were analysed by 3-factor split-plot analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measures for time since re-exposure in the subplots.

Key Results Buried turves were characterized by a low dark respiration rate, which may represent a maintenance response to burial. After removal of sand, each machair sub-community showed some capacity for an elastic photosynthetic response. There were no differences between the effects of short- and long-term burial on the photosynthetic efficiency of machair vegetation, although turves buried for 6 weeks generally attained photosynthetic rates approaching those of control rates sooner than turves buried for 2 weeks. Photosynthetic responses to burial varied between sub-communities, with the slack turves exhibiting the poorest capacity for recovery within the investigated 44-h period.

Conclusions In the machair environment, the ability to maintain photosynthetic equipment whilst buried, and the ability to bring about a relatively rapid reinstatement of photosynthetic mechanisms on emergence or exposure, is an important adaptation for survival. Survival is closely related to the ability of a plant to replenish carbohydrate reserves before the next burial event.

Keywords: Coastal dunes; dark respiration; elastic responses; infra-red gas analyser; machair; Outer Hebrides; photosynthetic efficiency; plant communities; sand burial; transplant experiments

Journal Article.  6293 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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