Journal Article

Multi-trait interactions, not phylogeny, fine-tune leaf size reduction with increasing altitude

Rubén Milla and Peter B. Reich

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 107, issue 3, pages 455-465
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online January 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcq261
Multi-trait interactions, not phylogeny, fine-tune leaf size reduction with increasing altitude

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry

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Background and Aims

Despite long-held interest, knowledge on why leaf size varies widely among species is still incomplete. This study was conducted to assess whether abiotic factors, phylogenetic histories and multi-trait interactions act together to shape leaf size.

Methods

Fifty-seven pairs of altitudinal vicariant species were selected in northern Spain, and leaf area and a number of functionally related leaf, shoot and whole plant traits were measured for each pair. Structural equation modelling helped unravel trait interactions affecting leaf size, and Mantel tests weighed the relative relevance of phylogeny, environment and trait interactions to explain leaf size reduction with altitude.

Key Results

Leaves of highland vicariants were generally smaller than those of lowlands. However, the extent of leaf size reduction with increasing altitude was widely variable among genera: from approx. 700 cm2 reduction (96 % in Polystichum) to approx. 30 cm2 increase (37 % in Sorbus). This was partially explained by shifts in leaf, shoot and whole plant traits (35–64 % of explained variance, depending on models), with size/number trade-offs more influential than shifts in leaf form and leaf economics. Shifts in traits were more important than phylogenetic distances or site-specific environmental variation in explaining the degree of leaf size reduction with altitude.

Conclusions

Ecological filters, constraints due to phylogenetic history (albeit modest in the study system), and phenotypic integration contribute jointly to shape single-trait evolution. Here, it was found that phenotypic change was far more important than shared ancestry to explaine leaf size differences of closely related species segregated along altitudes.

Keywords: Leaf size evolution; leaf economics; phylogeny; traits; altitude; indirect selection; morphological correlates; structural equation models

Journal Article.  7945 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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