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Title: Supercooling capacity increases from sea level to tree line in the Hawaiian tree species Metrosideros polymorpha

Author: Melcher, P.J.; Cordell, S.; Jones, T.J.; Scowcroft, P.G.; Niemczuzra, W.; Giambelluca, W.; Goldstein, G.;

Date: 2000

Source: International Journal of Plant Science 161(3): 369-379

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: Population‐specific differences in the freezing resistance of Metrosideros polymorpha leaves were studied along an elevational gradient from sea level to tree line (located at ca. 2500 m above sea level) on the east flank of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. In addition, we also studied 8‐yr‐old saplings grown in a common garden from seeds collected from the same field populations. Leaves of low‐elevation field plants exhibited damage at −2°C, before the onset of ice formation, which occurred at −5.7°C. Leaves of high‐elevation plants exhibited damage at ca. −8.5°C, concurrent with ice formation in the leaf tissue, which is typical of plants that avoid freezing in their natural environment by supercooling. Nuclear magnetic resonance studies revealed that water molecules of both extra‐ and intracellular leaf water fractions from high‐elevation plants had restricted mobility, which is consistent with their low water content and their high levels of osmotically active solutes. Decreased mobility of water molecules may delay ice nucleation and/or ice growth and may therefore enhance the ability of plant tissues to supercool. Leaf traits that correlated with specific differences in supercooling capacity were in part genetically determined and in part environmentally induced. Evidence indicated that lower apoplastic water content and smaller intercellular spaces were associated with the larger supercooling capacity of the plant’s foliage at tree line. The irreversible tissue‐damage temperature decreased by ca. 7°C from sea level to tree line in leaves of field populations. However, this decrease appears to be only large enough to allow M. polymorpha trees to avoid leaf tissue damage from freezing up to a level of ca. 2500 m elevation, which is also the current tree line location on the east flank of Mauna Loa. The limited freezing resistance of M. polymorpha leaves may be partially responsible for the occurrence of tree line at a relatively low elevation in Hawaii compared with continental tree lines, which can be up to 1500 m higher. If the elevation of tree line is influenced by the inability of M. polymorpha leaves to supercool to lower subzero temperatures, then it will be the first example that freezing damage resulting from limited supercooling capacity can be a factor in tree line formation.

Keywords: supercooling, freezing resistance, Metrosideros polymorpha, tree line, Hawaii, nuclear magnetic resonance, plasticity

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Melcher, P.J.; Cordell, S.; Jones, T.J.; Scowcroft, P.G.; Niemczuzra, W.; Giambelluca, W.; Goldstein, G. 2000. Supercooling capacity increases from sea level to tree line in the Hawaiian tree species Metrosideros polymorpha. International Journal of Plant Science 161(3): 369-379

 


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