Variation in bulk-leaf <sup>13</sup>C discrimination, leaf traits and water-use efficiency–trait relationships along a continental-scale climate gradient in Australia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Global Change Biology, 2018, 24 (3), pp. 1186 - 1200
Issue Date:
2018-03-01
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© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Large spatial and temporal gradients in rainfall and temperature occur across Australia. This heterogeneity drives ecological differentiation in vegetation structure and ecophysiology. We examined multiple leaf-scale traits, including foliar 13C isotope discrimination (Δ13C), rates of photosynthesis and foliar N concentration and their relationships with multiple climate variables. Fifty-five species across 27 families were examined across eight sites spanning contrasting biomes. Key questions addressed include: (i) Does Δ13C and intrinsic water-use efficiency (WUEi) vary with climate at a continental scale? (ii) What are the seasonal and spatial patterns in Δ13C/WUEi across biomes and species? (iii) To what extent does Δ13C reflect variation in leaf structural, functional and nutrient traits across climate gradients? and (iv) Does the relative importance of assimilation and stomatal conductance in driving variation in Δ13C differ across seasons? We found that MAP, temperature seasonality, isothermality and annual temperature range exerted independent effects on foliar Δ13C/WUEi. Temperature-related variables exerted larger effects than rainfall-related variables. The relative importance of photosynthesis and stomatal conductance (gs) in determining Δ13C differed across seasons: Δ13C was more strongly regulated by gs during the dry-season and by photosynthetic capacity during the wet-season. Δ13C was most strongly correlated, inversely, with leaf mass area ratio among all leaf attributes considered. Leaf Nmass was significantly and positively correlated with MAP during dry- and wet-seasons and with moisture index (MI) during the wet-season but was not correlated with Δ13C. Leaf Pmass showed significant positive relationship with MAP and Δ13C only during the dry-season. For all leaf nutrient-related traits, the relationships obtained for Δ13C with MAP or MI indicated that Δ13C at the species level reliably reflects the water status at the site level. Temperature and water availability, not foliar nutrient content, are the principal factors influencing Δ13C across Australia.
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