Leaf element concentrations strongly affect the productivity, functioning, and nutrient cycling of plant communities, and thus the response of an ecosystem to global change. Therefore, an understanding of these processes is important for modeling the nutrient cycling of ecosystems.
Prof. Cao Kunfang and his research team of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) analyzed the concentrations of 10 leaf elements of 702 terrestrial plant species from 66 families in 30 orders across terrestrial biomes in China. Their study was aimed to determine how leaf element concentrations are linked to taxonomy and the environment.
The researchers used phylogenetically comparative methods and partial Mantel tests to determine the factors affecting their variation, especially to address how leaf nutrients are affected by environmental factors (latitude, precipitation and temperature) across China and how much an effect phylogeny has.
The study comprehensively characterized the relative effects of taxonomy and environmental factors on the latitudinal patterns of leaf K, S, SiO2, Fe, Al, Mn, Na and Ca concentrations in China.
The research found that leaf element concentrations were affected by the environment, taxonomy and their interactions. But overall, the environment had a stronger effect than taxonomy on leaf element concentrations, with the exception of S and SiO2. Therefore, changes in temperature and precipitation will directly affect the spatial patterns in leaf element concentrations via changes in vegetation composition and subsequently affect the associated ecosystem nutrient fluxes and functioning.
The study entitled “Leaf element concentrations of terrestrial plants across China are influenced by taxonomy and the environment” has been published online in Global Ecology and Biogeography, DOI: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2011.00729.x