, Volume 148, Issue 4, pp 612-624
Date: 04 Apr 2006

Leaf strategies and soil N across a regional humidity gradient in Patagonia

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Abstract

We analyzed leaf traits related to carbon-fixation, nutrient conservation strategies, and decomposability and their relationships with potential N-mineralization and microbial N in soil in 19 species of 5 dominant life forms growing in 40 sites across a regional humidity gradient in northern Patagonia. We hypothesized that (1) the shifting of species and life forms across the humidity gradient is related to a shifting in traits of green and senesced leaves with some overlapping among life forms, and (2) leaf traits associated with litter decomposition are related to the potential dynamics of soil-N across the humidity gradient. LMA in green leaves and P-resorption efficiency decreased with humidity while concentrations of lignin and total phenolics in green and senesced leaves and P concentration in senesced leaves increased with humidity. Soil C and N concentrations were positively correlated to humidity. Increasing soil N concentration was related to increasing rates of absolute (per unit soil mass) potential net N-mineralization and microbial-N flush. Relative (per unit N mass) potential net N-mineralization and microbial-N flush decreased with soil N and were inversely correlated to lignin concentration and C/N ratio in senesced leaves. We found overlapping in N concentration and C/N ratio in green and senesced leaves, P concentration in green leaves, and N resorption among species and life forms across the humidity gradient. We concluded that (1) leaf traits related to carbon fixation and the decomposition pathway significantly varied with humidity and were not overlapped between plant life forms from dry and humid habitats, (2) the largest overlapping among species and plant life forms across the gradient occurred in those leaf traits related to N conservation in the plant, and (3) life forms from humid habitats produce more recalcitrant litter that induce lower rates of relative potential net N mineralization (per unit N) than those of dry habitats.

Communicated by Mercedes Bustamante