The intrinsic variability of volatile organic compound emissions and photosynthetic parameters in response to two drying cycles was investigated on Quercus suber L. saplings originating from three Tunisian populations native to contrasting climates. Emissions mainly included monoterpenes plus traces of sesquiterpenes and methylsalicylate that steadily decreased during the experiment unrelated to treatments. Instead, monoterpene emissions increased by 30% during a first moderate drought and remained enhanced after rewatering, while CO2–H2O gas exchange was reduced by 30%. A second severe drought decreased monoterpene emissions to about two third of controls, strongly inhibited gas exchange and photochemical efficiency, and caused a partial loss of chlorophyll. Rewatering led to only partial recovery of emissions and photosynthetic parameters of stressed plants whose biomasses and leaf nitrogen and chlorophyll contents were lower than in control plants. There was no clear difference among populations in volatile organic compound emissions or photosynthetic parameters. However, the population inhabiting the most arid region had intrinsically smaller leaves with lower specific leaf masses and higher drought-related leaf losses than populations native to less arid climates. These results indicate an adaptive shift from stress-tolerating towards stress-avoiding ecotypes under arid climates involving mainly morphological adaptations without apparent differentiation in volatile organic compound production, probably because of its high phenological plasticity.
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