1. Macrophytes in running waters experience an often dynamic and harsh environment. To avoid breakage, plants have to reduce the experienced drag force. However, by reducing leaf area, photosynthetic production is less. Aquatic plants therefore have to find a balance between reducing drag and maintaining photosynthetic capacity.
2. In the experiments in this study, we assessed to what extent different morphological strategies (emergent vs. submerged) were able to minimize drag while maximizing leaf area.
3. From our measurements, it is clear that with increasing water velocities, emergent plant species have a drag value three to four times higher than submerged species.
4. To test the versatility of leaves, leaves were removed and their effect on drag and bending was investigated. Almost 60% of the drag is contributed by the leaves, and stems bend less when leaves are removed.
5. Because high submerged leaf area increases not only plant drag but also photosynthetic yield, a trade-off between both parameters was investigated in the function of stream velocity. Emerged species had a more favourable trade-off at low stream velocities. However, with increasing stream velocity, submerged species could reduce their drag more in comparison with blunt objects. Within these submerged species, a clear distinction was seen between those (Potamogeton natans) concentrating their leaf area on or just beneath the water surface (Stuckenia pectinata) and those with more or less evenly distributed biomass (Callitriche platycarpa and Ranunculus penicillatus).
6. These results indicate that aquatic plants with an emergent strategy are able to take better advantage of zones with reduced hydraulic forces than submerged plants. Additionally, this plant occurrence will be determined by the relationship between total plant drag and root strength.