, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 721-730

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

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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.

Communicated by Andrea Polle.