Growth of tree seedlings in a tropical dry forest in relation to soil moisture and leaf traits

Chaturvedi, R. K. ; Raghubanshi, A. S. ; Singh, J. S. (2013) Growth of tree seedlings in a tropical dry forest in relation to soil moisture and leaf traits Journal of Plant Ecology, 6 (2). pp. 158-170. ISSN 1752-9921

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Aims: The growth of plant species in tropical dry forest (TDF) is expected to be largely governed by the availability of soil moisture. In this study we attempt to identify mechanisms by which seedlings of dry tropical trees cope with water stress by adjusting their leaf characteristics to water availability and micro environments, and address following questions: How are leaf traits and relative growth rate (RGR) of the dominant seedling species of TDF affected by seasonal changes in soil moisture content (SMC)? What is the relationship of functional traits with each other? Can leaf traits singly or in combination predict the growth rate of seedling species of TDF? The study was conducted in situ on four sites (viz., Hathinala, Gaighat, Harnakachar and Ranitali, listed in order of decreasing SMC) within the tropical dry deciduous forest in northern India. Methods: Five leaf traits viz., specific leaf area (SLA), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), concentrations of leaf nitrogen (leaf N), phosphorus (leaf P) and chlorophyll (Chl) and two physiological processes, viz., stomatal conductance (Gsnet) and photosynthetic rate (Anet), and RGR, of four dominant tree seedling species of a TDF (viz., Buchanania lanzan, Diospyros melanoxylon, Shorea robusta and Terminalia tomentosa) on four sites were analysed for species, site and season effects over a 2-year period. Step-wise multiple regression was performed to predict RGR from mean values of SMC, leaf traits and physiological processes. Principal component analysis (PCA) was performed to observe the extent of intra- vs. inter-specific variability in the leaf traits and physiological rates. Important Findings: All the traits and physiological rates were interrelated and showed significant positive relationship with RGR except for the correlation of LDMC with RGR which was not significant. Further, relationships of SMC with all leaf traits, physiological rates and RGR were significant, except for that between SMC and SLA for B. lanzan and D. melanoxylon. The slope of seedling trait:SMC relationship, a measure of phenotypic plasticity in response to soil moisture gradient, varied among species. Among the four species, T. tomentosa was the most plastic and S. robusta the least. In conclusion, leaf traits and physiological processes were strongly related to soil water availability on the one hand and seedling growth on the other. Gsnet is the most important variable which accounted for the greatest amount of variability (62%) in RGR, emphasizing the role of stomatal conductance in shaping growth patterns across spatial and temporal gradients of soil water availability. Gsnet and SMC together explained 64% variability in RGR, indicating that other traits/factors, not studied by us are also important in modulating the growth of tropical tree seedlings.

Item Type:Article
Source:Copyright of this article belongs to Oxford University Press.
Keywords:Dry Deciduous Forest; Phenotypic Plasticity; Photosynthetic Rate; Relative Growth Rate; Stomatal Conductance; Soil Moisture Content
ID Code:98718
Deposited On:02 Apr 2015 05:40
Last Modified:02 Apr 2015 05:57

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