Centrum Landschap - Ecologische Modellen en Monitoring, Laboratorium voor Microbiologie
The large variation in the relationships between environmental factors and plant traits observed in natural communities exemplifies the alternative solutions that plants have developed in response to the same environmental limitations. Qualitative attributes, such as growth form, woodiness, and leaf habit can be used to approximate these alternative solutions. Here, we quantified the extent to which these attributes affect leaf trait values at a given resource supply level, using measured plant traits from 105 different species (254 observations) distributed across 50 sites in mesic to wet plant communities in The Netherlands. For each site, soil total N, soil total P, and water supply estimates were obtained by field measurements and modeling. Effects of growth forms, woodiness, and leaf habit on relations between leaf traits (SLA, specific leaf area; LNC, leaf nitrogen concentration; and LPC, leaf phosphorus concentration) vs. nutrient and water supply were quantified using maximum-likelihood methods and Bonferroni post hoc tests. The qualitative attributes explained 8-23% of the variance within sites in leaf traits vs. soil fertility relationships, and therefore they can potentially be used to make better predictions of global patterns of leaf traits in relation to nutrient supply. However, at a given soil fertility, the strength of the effect of each qualitative attribute was not the same for all leaf traits. These differences may imply a differential regulation of the leaf economy traits at a given nutrient supply, in which SLA and LPC seem to be regulated in accordance to changes in plant size and architecture while LNC seems to be primarily regulated at the leaf level by factors related to leaf longevity.