Lusk, C. H., Grierson, E. R. P., & Laughlin, D. C. (2019). Large leaves in warm, moist environments confer an advantage in seedling light interception efficiency. New Phytol, 223(3), 1319–1327. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.15849
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12738
Leaf size varies conspicuously along environmental gradients. Small leaves help plants cope with drought and frost, because of the effect of leaf size on boundary layer conductance; it is less clear what advantage large leaves confer in benign environments. We asked if large leaves give species of warm climates an advantage in seedling light interception efficiency over small-leaved species from colder environments. We measured seedling leaf, architectural and biomass distribution traits of 18 New Zealand temperate rainforest evergreens; we then used a 3-D digitiser and the Yplant program to model leaf area display and light interception. Species associated with mild climates on average had larger leaves and larger specific leaf areas (SLA) than those from cold climates, and displayed larger effective foliage areas per unit of aboveground biomass, indicating higher light interception efficiency at whole-plant level. This reflected differences in total foliage area, rather than in self-shading. Our findings advance the understanding of leaf size by showing that large leaves enable seedlings of species with highly conductive (but frost-sensitive) xylem to deploy large foliage areas without increasing self-shading. Leaf size variation along temperature gradients in humid forests may therefore reflect a trade-off between seedling light interception efficiency and susceptibility to frost.
© 2019 The Authors