Title

High and low temperature tolerances and their relationships to distribution of agaves

Document Type

Article

Abstract

The potential influence of tissue tolerances to extreme temperatures on distributional limits was investigated for 15 taxa (14 species) of leaf-succulent agaves from the south-western United States and northern Mexico. As a group, the agaves exhibited a moderate low temperature tolerance of – 11°C (based on a 50% inhibition in the number of mesophyll cells taking up a stain, neutral red). However, nearly all of the species were able to tolerate extremely high tissue temperatures of over 60°C. Nocturnal acid accumulation by these crassulacean acid metabolism plants was about 6°C more sensitive to temperature extremes than was cellular membrane integrity. High and low temperature acclimation in response to changing day/night air temperatures was observed in all 15 taxa, with high temperature acclimation averaging two-fold greater than low temperature acclimation (3.8°C versus 2.0°C per 10°C change in ambient temperature). Species occupying the coldest habitats exhibited the greatest low temperature tolerances and acclimation; several such species, such as Agave utahensis and A. schottii, had small rosette sizes which resulted in higher minimum leaf temperatures. Species from the hottest habitats had among the greatest high temperature tolerances and acclimation; the two species from open desert scrub habitats, A. deserti and A. lecheguilla, had the lowest leaf shortwave absorptances observed, which would result in lower maximum leaf temperatures. Thus morphology and tissue tolerances to stressful temperatures reflect the temperature extremes of a plant's native habitat, although low temperature tolerance appears to limit the distribution of agaves more than high temperature tolerance.

Disciplines

Desert Ecology | Plant Biology