Relationships among leaf traits of Australian arid zone plants: Alternative modes of thermal protection

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Journal Article
Australian Journal of Botany, 2012, 60 (6), pp. 471 - 483
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Despite the importance of leaf traits that protect against critically high leaf temperatures, relationships among such traits have not been investigated. Further, while some leaf trait relationships are well documented across biomes, little is known about such associations within a biome. This study investigated relationships between nine leaf traits that protect leaves against excessively high temperatures in 95 Australian arid zone species. Seven morphological traits were measured: leaf area, length, width, thickness, leaf mass per area, water content, and an inverse measure of pendulousness. Two spectral properties were measured: reflectance of visible and near-infrared radiation. Three key findings emerged: (1) leaf pendulousness increased with leaf size and leaf mass per area, the former relationship suggesting that pendulousness affords thermal protection when leaves are large; (2) leaf mass per area increased with thickness and decreased with water content, indicating alternative means for protection through increasing thermal mass; (3) spectral reflectance increased with leaf mass per area and thickness and decreased with water content. The consistent co-variation of thermal protective traits with leaf mass per area, a trait not usually associated with thermal protection, suggests that these traits fall along the leaf economics spectrum, with leaf longevity increasing through protection not only against structural damage but also against heat stress. © 2012 CSIRO.
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