Leaf nutrients, not specific leaf area, are consistent indicators of elevated nutrient inputs

Firn, J. and McGree, J.M. and Harvey, E. and Flores-Moreno, H. and Schütz, M. and Buckley, Y.M. and Borer, E.T. and Seabloom, E.W. and La Pierre, K.J. and MacDougall, A.M. and Prober, S.M. and Stevens, C.J. and Sullivan, L.L. and Porter, E. and Ladouceur, E. and Allen, C. and Moromizato, K.H. and Morgan, J.W. and Harpole, W.S. and Hautier, Y. and Eisenhauer, N. and Wright, J.P. and Adler, P.B. and Arnillas, C.A. and Bakker, J.D. and Biederman, L. and Broadbent, A.A.D. and Brown, C.S. and Bugalho, M.N. and Caldeira, M.C. and Cleland, E.E. and Ebeling, A. and Fay, P.A. and Hagenah, N. and Kleinhesselink, A.R. and Mitchell, R. and Moore, J.L. and Nogueira, C. and Peri, P.L. and Roscher, C. and Smith, M.D. and Wragg, P.D. and Risch, A.C. (2019) Leaf nutrients, not specific leaf area, are consistent indicators of elevated nutrient inputs. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 3. pp. 400-406. ISSN 2397-334X

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Leaf traits are frequently measured in ecology to provide a ‘common currency’ for predicting how anthropogenic pressures impact ecosystem function. Here, we test whether leaf traits consistently respond to experimental treatments across 27 globally distributed grassland sites across 4 continents. We find that specific leaf area (leaf area per unit mass)—a commonly measured morphological trait inferring shifts between plant growth strategies—did not respond to up to four years of soil nutrient additions. Leaf nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium concentrations increased in response to the addition of each respective soil nutrient. We found few significant changes in leaf traits when vertebrate herbivores were excluded in the short-term. Leaf nitrogen and potassium concentrations were positively correlated with species turnover, suggesting that interspecific trait variation was a significant predictor of leaf nitrogen and potassium, but not of leaf phosphorus concentration. Climatic conditions and pretreatment soil nutrient levels also accounted for significant amounts of variation in the leaf traits measured. Overall, we find that leaf morphological traits, such as specific leaf area, are not appropriate indicators of plant response to anthropogenic perturbations in grasslands.

Item Type:
Journal Article
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Nature Ecology and Evolution
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© 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG
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Deposited On:
01 Mar 2019 10:25
Last Modified:
16 Dec 2023 01:30