A stage-based study of drought response in Cryptantha flava (Boraginaceae): Gas exchange, water use efficiency, and whole plant performance


Models of global climate change predict an increase in the frequency of major droughts, yet we know little about the consequences of drought for the demography of natural populations. This study examined a population of the semi-desert perennial Cryptantha flava (Boraginaceae) to determine how plants of different developmental stages respond to drought through changes in leaf gas exchange, leaf water potential, water use efficiency, growth, and reproduction. In two of the four years, drought was applied using rainout shelters, and a severe natural drought occurred in another. Small, presumably younger, plants sometimes had lower rates of maximum photosynthesis, lower leaf water potentials, and lower instantaneous or integrated water-use efficiency than large plants. Small plants also had higher relative growth rates and lower reproductive effort. Large plants with evidence of shrinkage from a previously larger size often produced less growth and reproduction than large healthy plants, suggesting a decline in plant vigor with age. Drought depressed gas exchange and leaf water potentials equally in all plant stages. Thus, leaf-level physiological attributes provide no clues for why drought reduces growth more strongly in large plants. The results point to several additional avenues of research relevant to understanding stage-dependent or age-dependent plant performance under drought conditions.



Document Type





Boraginaceae, Cryptantha flava, Drought, Plant aging, Relative growth rate, Water use efficiency

Publication Date


Journal Title

American Journal of Botany