Physiological ecology - Original research

Oecologia

, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 721-730

Extended leaf senescence promotes carbon gain and nutrient resorption: importance of maintaining winter photosynthesis in subtropical forests

  • Yong-Jiang ZhangAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of SciencesDepartment of Biology, University of MiamiAilaoshan Station for Subtropical Forest Ecosystem Studies, Chinese Academy of SciencesGraduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • , Qiu-Yun YangAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of SciencesAilaoshan Station for Subtropical Forest Ecosystem Studies, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • , David W. LeeAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Florida International University
  • , Guillermo GoldsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of MiamiDepartamento de Ecologia, Genetica y Evolucion, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Ciudad Universitaria Email author 
  • , Kun-Fang CaoAffiliated withKey Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of SciencesState Key Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Subtropical Agro-bioresources, The Key Laboratory of Ministry of Education for Microbial and Plant Genetic Engineering, and College of Forestry, Guangxi University Email author 

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Abstract

The relative advantages of being deciduous or evergreen in subtropical forests and the relationship between leaf phenology and nutrient resorption efficiency are not well understood. The most successful deciduous species (Lyonia ovalifolia) in an evergreen-dominated subtropical montane cloud forest in southwest (SW) China maintains red senescing leaves throughout much of the winter. The aim of this study was to investigate whether red senescing leaves of this species were able to assimilate carbon in winter, to infer the importance of maintaining a positive winter carbon balance in subtropical forests, and to test whether an extended leaf life span is associated with enhanced nutrient resorption and yearly carbon gain. The red senescing leaves of L. ovalifolia assimilated considerable carbon during part of the winter, resulting in a higher yearly carbon gain than co-occurring deciduous species. Its leaf N and P resorption efficiency was higher than for co-occurring non-anthocyanic deciduous species that dropped leaves in autumn, supporting the hypothesis that anthocyanin accumulation and/or extended leaf senescence help in nutrient resorption. Substantial winter carbon gain and efficient nutrient resorption may partially explain the success of L. ovalifolia versus that of the other deciduous species in this subtropical forest. The importance of maintaining a positive carbon balance for ecological success in this forest also provides indirect evidence for the dominance of evergreen species in the subtropical forests of SW China.

Keywords

Deciduousness Leaf phenology Carbon balance Anthocyanin Cloud forest