Patterns and determinants of potential carbon gain in the C3 evergreen Yucca glauca (Liliaceae) in a C4 grassland

TitlePatterns and determinants of potential carbon gain in the C3 evergreen Yucca glauca (Liliaceae) in a C4 grassland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsMaragni, LA, Knapp, AK, McAllister, CA
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Pagination230 -236
Accession NumberKNZ00740
KeywordsClimate change, cold tolerance, evergreen, Grasslands, Liliaceae, photosynthesis, tallgrass prairie, Water relations, Yucca

Yucca glauca is a C3 evergreen rosette species locally common in the C4-dominated grasslands of the central Great Plains. Most congeners of Y. glauca are found in deserts, and Y. glauca’s morphological similarities to desert species (steeply angled leaves, evergreen habit) may be critical to its success in grasslands. We hypothesized that the evergreen habit of Y. glauca, coupled with its ability to remain physiologically active at cool temperatures, would allow this species to gain a substantial portion of its annual carbon budget when the C4 grasses are dormant. Leaf-level gas exchange was measured over an 18-mo period at Konza Prairie in northeast Kansas to assess the annual pattern of potential C gain. Two short-term experiments also were conducted in which nighttime temperatures were manipulated to assess the cold tolerance of this species. The annual pattern of C gain in Y. glauca was bimodal, with a spring productive period (maximum monthly photosynthetic rate = 21.1 ± 1.97 μmol·m−2·s−1) in March through June, a period of midseason photosynthetic depression, and a fall productive period in October (15.6 ± 1.25 μmol·m−2·s−1). The steeply angled leaves resulted in interception of photon flux density at levels above photosynthetic saturation throughout the year. Reduced photosynthetic rates in the summer may have been caused by low soil moisture, but temperature was strongly related (r2 = 0.37) to annual variations in photosynthesis, with nocturnal air temperatures below −5°C in the late fall and early spring, and high air temperatures (>32°C) in the summer, limiting gas exchange. Overall, 31% of the potential annual carbon gain in Y. glauca occurred outside the “frost-free” period (April–October) at Konza Prairie and 43% occurred when the dominant C4 grasses were dormant. Future climates that include warmer minimum temperatures in the spring and fall may enhance the success of Y. glauca relative to the C4 dominants in these grasslands.