Difference in cuticular transpiration and sclerophylly in juvenile and adult pine needles relates to the species-specific rates of development.
Pinus species show remarkable ontogenetic differences in needle morphology (heterophylly) between juvenile and adult vegetative phases. This developmental shift may play an adaptative role in their success under diverse habitats. As a first step to know the functional differences between each vegetative phase, we compared water loss through the cuticles of juvenile and adult needles of 21-month-old nursery-grown seedlings of nine hard pine species. Cuticular transpiration (CT), calculated after complete stomatal closure, was obtained by leaf-drying curves, and was related to leaf, ontogenetic and climatic parameters. The rate of cuticular transpiration (RCT) between juvenile and adult needles differed across pine species, and in particular segregated the Mediterranean species Pinus canariensis and P. halepensis, from the Eurasian P. uncinata and introduced species P. radiata. For these species, RCT was always higher in juvenile needles. The different leaf and ontogenic parameters studied were correlated with the variation in RCT among the nine pine species. We discuss this relationship in the light of the species ecology. Besides their possible adaptive interpretation, these results suggest an underlying need to consider the ontogenetic heterophylly when assessing functional traits in hard pine seedlings, in particular those traits that govern water relations.