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The influence on uptake and water loss of the structural changes experienced by Parmelia acetabulum during thallus development were investigated. Small specimens were characterized by flat lobes and a thin thallus and cortex. Large specimens appeared strongly rugose, imbricate and irregularly folded, and had a significantly thicker cortex and medulla than small thalli. Maximum water storage capacity did not differ between large and small thalli, although water retention was much higher in large thalli, presumably due to the interaction of structural characteristics and a higher boundary layer resistance. This translated into a longer duration of the period of thallus hydration in large thalli compared to small thalli. Incubation of thalli in water-vapour-saturated atmospheres induced full recovery of photosynthetic electron transport to the values before desiccation in small thalli but only induced a partial recovery in large thalli. The close correlation between photosynthetic electron transport and net photosynthesis during desiccation found in this species suggested that carbon-fixation activity could be regained to a larger extent by incubation of thalli in water vapour in small compared to large thalli. The higher ability for water vapour uptake of small thalli might allow them to efficiently use small amounts of intermittently available water or periods of high relative humidity. The significance of this differential ability to utilize water is discussed with regard to the known ecological preferences of the species.
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