Conifer-angiosperm interactions: Physiological ecology and life history.
Lusk, C.H. (2011) Conifer-angiosperm interactions: physiological ecology and life history. In B.L. Turner, & L.A. Cernusak, (Eds.), Ecology of tropical podocarps (pp. 157-164). Smithsonian Contributions to Botany, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7423
Worldwide, conifers are most successful on sites subject to chronic stresses that limit productivity (low temperatures, nutrient poverty, poor drainage). They are poorly represented in the lowland tropics but are often important in Montane tropical forests. Here I explore some functional differences between leaf and xylem traits of conifer and angiosperm trees and their implications for the distributions of these two groups on environmental gradients. Analysis of a global data set shows that compared with angiosperm trees, conifers tend to have longer-lived leaves with greater mass per area (LMA) and lower mass-based photosynthetic capacity. As leaf life span is thought to be the main determinant of nutrient retention time, the prominence of conifers on infertile soils worldwide is at least partly attributable to thrifty use of nutrients through long leaf life spans. Furthermore, because leaf life span correlates with litter decomposition rates, these leaf trait differences could potentially influence the competitive balance between conifers and angiosperms via positive feedbacks on nutrient cycling. Although scaling of leaf life span with LMA is similar in the two groups, angiosperms achieve slightly longer leaf life spans than conifers of similar photosynthetic capacity. This might be caused by less-efficient leaf display in conifers, resulting in the useful life span of leaves being curtailed by self-shading. Representatives of both lineages have narrower conduits in the temperate zone than in the lowland tropics/subtropics, reflecting selection for resistance to freeze-thaw embolism in cold climates. However, conduit diameters of conifers and angiosperm trees differ more in tropical and subtropical forests than at higher latitudes. This probably reflects mechanical constraints on maximum tracheid diameters in the homoxylous wood of conifers, preventing this group from producing the highly conductive wood typical of fast-growing angiosperm pioneers in tropical forests. This pattern might explain why coexistence of conifers and angiosperms is more common in temperate forests and on tropical mountains than in the lowland tropics. Impairment of angiosperm carbon gain by freeze-thaw embolism during cold weather may further narrow performance differences between the two lineages on temperate sites. Differences in canopy residence time probably deserve more attention as a determinant of conifer-angiosperm coexistence in many temperate forests, the longer life span of conifers compensating for infrequent recruitment.
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