Plant phenology, leaf traits and leaf litterfall of contrasting life forms in the arid Patagonian Monte, Argentina

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Question: Do coexisting plant life forms differ in overall phenology, leaf traits and patterns of leaf litterfall?

Location: Patagonian Monte, Chubut Province, Argentina.

Methods: We assessed phenology, traits of green and senesced leaves and the pattern of leaf litterfall in 12 species of coexisting life forms (perennial grasses, deciduous shrubs, evergreen shrubs).

Results: We did not identify differences in phenology, leaf traits and patterns of leaf litterfall among life forms but these attributes contrasted among species. Independent of the life form, the maintenance of green leaves or vegetative growth during the dry season was mostly associated with leaves with high leaf mass per area (LMA) and high concentration of secondary compounds. Low LMA species produced low litterfall mass with low concentration of secondary compounds, and high N concentration. High LMA species produced the largest mass of leaf litterfall. Accordingly, species were distributed along two main dimensions of ecological variation, the dimension secondary compounds in leaves - length and timing of the vegetative growth period (SC – VGP) and the dimension leaf mass per area - leaf litterfall mass (LMA – LLM).

Conclusions: Phenology, leaf traits and leaf litterfall varied among species and overlapped among life forms. The two dimensions of ecological variation among species (SC – VGP, LMA – LLM) represent distinct combinations of plant traits or strategies related to resource acquisition and drought tolerance which are reflected in the patterns of leaf litterfall.
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