Leaf trait adaptations of xylem-tapping mistletoes and their hosts in sites of contrasting aridity

Marina C. Scalon*, Ian J. Wright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background and aims: Xylem-tapping mistletoes may experience relaxed selective pressure to use water efficiently during photosynthesis because of lower per-unit costs for water acquisition than experienced by host plants. As a result, we hypothesised that mistletoes would exhibit parallel but dampened leaf-level adaptations and responses to aridity, compared to those seen in hosts.

Methods: Photosynthetic traits, leaf dark respiration, nutrient concentrations and specific leaf area (SLA) were measured on 42 mistletoe-host species-pairs sampled from five sites in Australia and Brazil that vary widely in aridity.

Results: Mistletoes exhibited similar trait-shifts to hosts in relation to site aridity. In both groups, arid-site species showed stronger control over stomatal water loss, larger drawdown of CO2 during photosynthesis (lower ci: ca), higher leaf N and P concentrations per unit leaf area, and lower SLA. Nevertheless, mistletoes were profligate water users compared to their hosts and showed substantially less efficient use of water during photosynthesis. On average, mistletoes showed twice higher leaf dark respiration rates at a given photosynthetic capacity, suggesting relatively higher leaf maintenance costs for these parasitic plants.

Conclusions: Despite fundamental differences in lifestyle and in photosynthetic traits, mistletoes exhibit trait responses and adaptations to site aridity in parallel and to approximately the same extent as their hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-130
Number of pages14
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • dark respiration
  • hemi-parasite
  • leaf nutrient concentration
  • loranthaceae
  • photosynthesis
  • water use efficiency


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