Temperature, nutrient availability, and species traits interact to shape elevation responses of Australian tropical trees

Singh Ramesh, Arun, Cheesman, Alexander W., Flores-Moreno, Habacuc, Preece, Noel D., Crayn, Darren M., and Cernusak, Lucas A. (2023) Temperature, nutrient availability, and species traits interact to shape elevation responses of Australian tropical trees. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 6. 1089167.

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Elevation gradients provide natural laboratories for investigating tropical tree ecophysiology in the context of climate warming. Previously observed trends with increasing elevation include decreasing stem diameter growth rates (GR), increasing leaf mass per area (LMA), higher root-to-shoot ratios (R:S), increasing leaf δ13C, and decreasing leaf δ15N. These patterns could be driven by decreases in temperature, lower soil nutrient availability, changes in species composition, or a combination of these. We investigated whether these patterns hold within the genus Flindersia (Rutaceae) along an elevation gradient (0 to 1600 m) in the Australian Wet Tropics. Flindersia species are relatively abundant and are important contributors to biomass in these forests. Next, we conducted a glasshouse experiment to better understand the effects of temperature, soil nutrient availability, and species on growth, biomass allocation, and isotopic composition. In the field, GR and leaf δ15N decreased, whereas LMA and leaf δ13C increased with elevation, consistent with observations on other continents. Soil C:N ratio also increased and soil δ15N decreased with increasing elevation, consistent with decreasing nutrient availability. In the glasshouse, relative growth rates (RGR) of the two lowland Flindersia species responded more strongly to temperature than did those of the two upland species. Interestingly, leaf δ13C displayed an opposite relationship with temperature in the glasshouse compared with that observed in the field, indicating the importance of covarying drivers in the field. Leaf δ15N increased in nutrient-rich compared to nutrient-poor soil in the glasshouse, similar to the trend in the field. There was a significant interaction for 15N between temperature and species; upland species showed a steeper increase in leaf 15N with temperature than lowland species. This could indicate more flexibility in nitrogen acquisition in lowland compared to upland species with warming. The distinguishing feature of a mountaintop restricted Flindersia species in the glasshouse was a very high R:S ratio in nutrient-poor soil at low temperatures, conditions approximating the mountaintop environment. Our results suggest that species traits interact with temperature and nutrient availability to drive observed elevation patterns. Capturing this complexity in models will be challenging but is important for making realistic predictions of tropical tree responses to global warming.

Item ID: 78002
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2624-893X
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Copyright Information: © 2023 Singh Ramesh, Cheesman, Flores-Moreno, Preece, Crayn and Cernusak. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Date Deposited: 18 Apr 2023 00:55
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3108 Plant biology > 310806 Plant physiology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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