• The widely documented phenomenon of nighttime stomatal conductance (gsn) could lead to substantial water loss with no carbon gain, and thus it remains unclear whether nighttime stomatal conductance confers a functional advantage. Given that studies of gsn have focused on controlled environments or small numbers of species in natural environments, a broad phylogenetic and biogeographic context could provide insights into potential adaptive benefits of gsn.
• We measured gsn on a diverse suite of species (n = 73) across various functional groups and climates-of-origin in a common garden to study the phylogenetic and biogeographic/climatic controls on gsn and further assessed the degree to which gsn co-varied with leaf functional traits and daytime gas exchange rates.
• Closely related species were more similar in gsn than expected by chance. Herbaceous species had higher gsn than woody species. Species that typically grow in climates with lower mean annual precipitation – where the fitness cost of water loss should be the highest – generally had higher gsn.
• Our results reveal the highest gsn rates in species from environments where neighboring plants compete most strongly for water, suggesting a possible role for the competitive advantage of gsn.
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Programme, Ecosystem Services and Agro-ecosystem Management, University of Utah Global Change and Sustainability Center, David and Lucille Packard Foundation, and U.S. National Science Foundation