Indexed on: 03 Dec '14Published on: 03 Dec '14Published in: Plant Biology
We explored potential of morphological and anatomical leaf traits for predicting ecophysiological key functions in subtropical trees. We asked whether the ecophysiological parameters stomatal conductance and xylem cavitation vulnerability could be predicted from microscopy leaf traits. We investigated 21 deciduous and 19 evergreen subtropical tree species, using individuals of the same age and from the same environment in the Biodiversity-Ecosystem Functioning experiment at Jiangxi (BEF-China). Information-theoretic linear model selection was used to identify the best combination of morphological and anatomical predictors for ecophysiological functions. Leaf anatomy and morphology strongly depended on leaf habit. Evergreen species tended to have thicker leaves, thicker spongy and palisade mesophyll, more palisade mesophyll layers and a thicker subepidermis. Over 50% of all evergreen species had leaves with multi-layered palisade parenchyma, while only one deciduous species (Koelreuteria bipinnata) had this. Interactions with leaf habit were also included in best multi-predictor models for stomatal conductance (gs ) and xylem cavitation vulnerability. In addition, maximum gs was positively related to log ratio of palisade to spongy mesophyll thickness. Vapour pressure deficit (vpd) for maximum gs increased with the log ratio of palisade to spongy mesophyll thickness in species having leaves with papillae. In contrast, maximum specific hydraulic conductivity and xylem pressure at which 50% loss of maximum specific xylem hydraulic conductivity occurred (Ψ50 ) were best predicted by leaf habit and density of spongy parenchyma. Evergreen species had lower Ψ50 values and lower maximum xylem hydraulic conductivities. As hydraulic leaf and wood characteristics were reflected in structural leaf traits, there is high potential for identifying further linkages between morphological and anatomical leaf traits and ecophysiological responses.