Stand Composition, Tree Proximity and Size Have Minimal Effects on Leaf Function of Coexisting Aspen and Subalpine Fir
Public Library of Science
Forest structural heterogeneity due to species composition, spatial relationships and tree size are widely studied patterns in forest systems, but their impacts on tree function are not as well documented. The objective of this study was to examine how stand composition, tree proximity relationships and tree size influence the leaf functional traits of aspen, an early successional species, and subalpine fir, a climax species. We measured foliar nutrients, nonstructural carbohydrates (aspen only), defense chemistry and xylem water potential of aspen and subalpine fir trees in three size classes growing in close proximity or independently from other trees under three stand conditions: aspen dominant, aspen-conifer mixed, and conifer dominant stands. Close proximity of subalpine fir to aspen reduced aspen’s storage of starch in foliar tissue by 17% suggesting that competition between these species may have small effects on carbon metabolism in aspen leaves. Simple sugar (glucose + sucrose) concentrations in aspen leaves were slightly higher in larger aspen trees than smaller trees. However, no differences were found in stem water potential, foliar concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, or secondary defense chemicals of aspen or subalpine fir across the gradients of stand composition, tree proximity or tree size. These results suggest that mechanisms of coexistence allow both aspen and subalpine fir to maintain leaf function across a wide range of stand structural characteristics. For aspen, resource sharing through its clonal root system and high resource storage capacity may partially contribute to its functional stability in mixed aspen-conifer stands.
Rhodes, A. C., T. Barney, and S. B. S. Clair. 2016. Stand Composition, Tree Proximity and Size Have Minimal Effects on Leaf Function of Coexistin