Contrasting Sap Flow Characteristics between Pioneer and Late-Successional Tree Species in Secondary Tropical Montane Forests of Eastern Himalaya, India

Manish Kumar, Gladwin Joseph, Yangchenla Bhutia, Jagdish Krishnaswamy  | 2023


The interactive role of life-history traits and environmental forcing on plant-water relations is crucial for understanding species response to climate change but remains poorly understood in secondary tropical montane forests (TMFs). Comparing contrasting life-history traits (pioneer vs late-successional species) in a biodiverse Eastern Himalayan secondary TMF, we investigated sap flow responses in co-occurring pioneer species, Symplocos racemosa (n=5) and Eurya acuminata (n=5), and late-successional species, Castanopsis hystrix (n=3), using modified Granier’s Thermal Dissipation probes. The fast-growing pioneers S. racemosa and E. acuminata) had 2.1- and 1.6-times higher sap flux density than the late-successional C. hystrix, respectively, and exhibited characteristics of long-lived pioneer species. Significant radial and azimuthal variability in sap flow (V) between species was observed and attributed to life history traits and the canopy’s access to sunlight. Nocturnal V (1800-0500 hr) was 13.8 % of daily V and is attributed to stem recharge for evening V (1800-2300 hr) and to endogenous stomatal controls for pre-dawn V (0000-0500 hr). Both the shallow-rooted pioneer species exhibited midday depression in V attributed to photosensitivity and diel moisture stress response. In contrast, deep-rooted C. hystrix transpired unaffected across the dry season likely accessing groundwater. Thus, the secondary broadleaved TMFs, with the dominance of shallow-rooted pioneers, are more prone to the negative impacts of drier and warmer winters than primary forests, which are dominated by deep-rooted species. The study provides an empirical understanding of life-history traits and microclimate modulating plant-water use in widely distributed secondary TMFs in Eastern Himalaya and highlights their vulnerability against warmer winters and reduced snowfall due to climate change.