Ramification has little impact on shoot hydraulic efficiency in the sexually dimorphic genus Leucadendron (Proteaceae)


Despite the diversity of branching architectures in plants, the impact of this morphological variation on hydraulic efficiency has been poorly studied. Branch junctions are commonly thought to be points of high hydraulic resistance, but adjustments in leaf area or xylem conduit abundance or dimensions could compensate for the additional hydraulic resistance of nodal junctions at the level of the entire shoot. Here we used the sexually dimorphic genus Leucadendron (Proteaceae) to test whether variation in branch ramification impacts shoot hydraulic efficiency. We found that branch ramification was related to leaf traits via Corner’s rules such that more highly ramified shoots had smaller leaves, but that branch ramification had little consistent impact on shoot hydraulic efficiency, whether measured on a leaf area or stem cross-sectional area basis. These results suggest that the presumed increase in resistance associated with branching nodes can be compensated by other adjustments at the shoot level (e.g. leaf area adjustments, increased ramification to add additional branches in parallel rather than in series) that maintain hydraulic efficiency at the level of the entire shoot. Despite large morphological differences between males and females in the genus Leucadendron, which are due to differences in pollination and reproduction between the sexes, the physiological differences between males and females are minimal.