Age-related changes of leaf traits and stoichiometry in an alpine shrub ( Rhododendron agglutinatum ) along altitudinal gradient


Abstract Leaf morphological and stoichiometric characteristics are considered to represent both the interior inheritable characters in the plant and its adaptations to specific exterior environments. Rhododendron agglutinatum, an evergreen alpine shrub species, occupies a wide range of habitats above timberline in the Miyaluo Natural Reserve, southwestern China. Along an altitudinal gradient ranging from 3700 to 4150 m, we measured leaf morphological characters including leaf dry matter content (LDMC), leaf dry mass per unit area (LMA), and one leaf area (OLA), as well as carbon (C) and nutrient (N, P) contents in leaves of three different age groups (juvenile leaves, mature leaves and senescent leaves). We also calculated the stoichiometric relationships among carbon and nutrients (C/N, C/P and N/P). Results showed that both age and altitude affected the leaf morphological and stoichiometric properties of R. agglutinatum. Mature leaves possessed the highest LDMC, LMA and C contents both on a dry mass basis and on a unit area basis. Younger leaves possessed higher contents of nutrients. OLA as well as ratios between carbon and nutrients (C/N, C/P) increased with ages. Juvenile leaves possessed lowest ratio between nitrogen and phosphorus. In juvenile leaves, nutrients increased with altitudinal elevation, whereas other traits decreased. In mature leaves, nutrients and their ratios with carbon showed consistent trends with juvenile leaves along increasing altitude, whereas LMA and carbon on a unit area basis showed opposite trends with juvenile leaves along increasing altitude. In senescent leaves, only content of phosphorus on a unit area basis and N/P were found linearly correlated with altitude. Our results demonstrated a clear pattern of nutrient distribution with aging process in leaves and indicated that a high possibility of N limitation in this region. We also concluded that younger leaves could be more sensitive to climate changes due to a greater altitudinal influence on the leaf traits in younger leaves than those in elder leaves.

En savoir plus