Leaf phenology of thirteen African origins of baobab (Adansonia digitata (L.)) as influenced by daylength and water availability

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Water availability is often described as one of the main drivers of phenology of tropical dry forests but experimental studies to identify the cues triggering phenological changes are few. In a greenhouse trial, we exposed seedlings of thirteen origins, seven from West and six from East Africa, respectively, of Adansonia digitata L.(baobab) to a well-watered control treatment and a water withholding treatment in combination with exposure to three different daylengths (11.5, 12.0, and 12.5 hr). Responses were measured in terms of meristematic activity, number of leaves, and height growth followed over 6.5 months. Multi-level mixed-effects statistical models were used to analyze how environmental and inter-population variables affected phenological behavior. Flushing was influenced by the daylength with the lowest degree of meristematic activity observed in the short daylength treatment. Daylength also influenced the number of leaves through an interaction with the water regime. The water regime influenced all variables through interactions with the origins. Seedlings subjected to water stress had higher meristematic activity, but initially lower numbers of leaves than continuously watered plants. Height growth in continuously watered plants was fastest or at par with water-stressed plants, depending on the origin. Origins from West Africa tended to have higher meristematic activity and their phenology was found to be less influenced by water withholding than East African origins. There were no signs of significant differences between origins in their response to photoperiod. In conclusion, baobab seedlings show opportunistic behavior, setting leaves when water is available, but larger activity is found when days are long. We discuss the results in terms of triggering factors for baobab phenology and adaptation to specific environmental conditions at the site of origins.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number22
Pages (from-to)11261-11272
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • climate, daylength, dry-zones, leaf flushing, origin, water stress

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