Field photosynthesis, microclimate and water relations of an exotic temperate liana, Pueraria lobata, kudzu

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Kudzu occurs in a variety of habitats in the southeastern United States. It is most common in exposed, forest edge sites and road cuts where it forms an extensive ground canopy as well as a canopy overtopping nearby trees, but it can also be found in completely open fields and deeply shaded sites within a forest. Microclimate, stomatal conductance, leaf water potential and photosynthetic responses to light, temperature and humidity were measured in two contrasting microhabitats on Pueraria lobata, kudzu. Midsummer leaf temperatures and leaf-to-air water vapor deficits for plants growing in an exposed site were significantly greater than for those in a shaded site, exceeding 35° C and 50 mmol mol-1, respectively. Maximum stomatal conductance exceeded 400 mmol m-2 s-1 in exposed leaves during peak vegetative growth. Stomatal conductance in shaded leaves was approximately half the value measured in exposed leaves on any particular dya. Maximum photosynthetic carbon uptake was also higher in leaves growing in exposed sites compared to leaves in shaded sites, exceeding 18.7 and 14.0 mgrmol m-2 s-1, respectively. Photosynthesis, stomatal conductance and intercellular CO2 concentration decreased dramatically in response to increasing water vapor deficit for leaves from both sites. However, transpiration showed an initial increase at intermediate water vapor deficits, leveling off or even decreasing at higher values. Leaf water potential demonstrated marked diurnal variation, but remained constant over a wide range of transpirational water fluxes. This latter feature, combined with microenvironmental modification through rapid leaf orientation and pronounced stomatal responses to water vapor deficits may represent important adaptive responses in the exploitation of a diverse array of habitats by kudzu.