Tree morphology in seasonally dry montane forest in Argentina: Relationships with shade tolerance and nutrient shortage

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Question: How does form (leaf and trunk morphology) relate to function (tolerance of shade and nutrient storage) in trees?

Location: Los Toldos montane valley in NW Argentina.

Methods: We analysed the relationships amongst (1) ten vegetative and four reproductive traits across 40 tree species, (2) a distribution based measure of recruitment under shade and (3) a distribution based measure of recruitment over a soil fertility gradient.

Results: Ordinations revealed three main axes of species' morphological differentiation: (1) evergreen species had leaves with a lower specific leaf area, greater tensile resistance and slower decomposition rate, denser wood and thinner bark than deciduous species; (2) tall tree species that lack spines and are anemochorous were separated from short, spinescent and zoochorous species and (3) species were distinguished according to clonal growth, seed mass and pollination syndromes. Notably, species' recruitment under shade and over a soil fertility gradient were independent of each other, but both were correlated with species' scores along the first axis of morphological variation (tolerant species have attributes that favour resource conservation). Different sets of traits were correlated with recruitment under shade and over a soil fertility gradient when traits where assessed individually. Amongst shade tolerant species, recruitment under shade was negatively correlated with species' maximum height, suggesting differential responses to vertical gradients of light.

Conclusions: These results provide new evidence of integration between leaf and stem morphology which is consistent with an evolutionary compromise between high rate of resource acquisition and resource conservation. Generalizations about the functional value of individual morphological characteristics and of 'strategies' vary with the resolution of analyses.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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