Plant and Soil

, Volume 276, Issue 1, pp 95-113

First online:

Leaf Mechanical Properties in Sclerophyll Woodland and Shrubland on Contrasting Soils

  • Jennifer ReadAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, Monash University Email author 
  • , Gordon D. SansonAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, Monash University
  • , Byron B. LamontAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Biology, Curtin University of Technology

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Sclerophylly is a common feature of vegetation on infertile soils, and its adaptive significance has been linked to nutrient-use efficiency by protection of leaves to maximise carbon gain. However, there has been little investigation of how the leaf mechanical properties that contribute to the phenomenon of sclerophylly vary along nutrient gradients. In this paper, we investigate how leaf mechanical properties vary among plants on three contrasting soil types (grey sand, laterite soil, and soil overlying dolerite) in a Mediterranean climate in southwestern Australia. Most species were sclerophyllous, but there was 5-fold variation in leaf mass per unit area (LMA) and 17- to 473-fold variation in mechanical properties among species. Species growing on laterite and/or sand (low-nutrient soils) had higher punch strength, work (a measure of toughness) to punch, specific (per unit leaf thickness) work to punch, work to shear, specific work to shear, and flexural stiffness (EI W) than those on dolerite soils (higher in nutrients). There were few differences in mean values of leaf mechanical properties between the two low-nutrient soils, possibly because the lower concentration of nutrients in the sand is balanced by the greater soil volume than the laterite soil (higher concentration of nutrients, but shallower). There were also few differences in leaf properties between plants of the same species growing on contrasting soil types. There was some variation among sclerophyllous species in their mechanical characteristics, but overall, EI W provided the strongest contribution to sclerophylly, explaining up to 81% of the variation in LMA. There was no evidence of differences among soil types in the relationships of mechanical properties with LMA, and therefore, no evidence of variation in the mechanical constitution of sclerophylly among soil types.

Key words

flexural stiffness leaf mass per area leaf nutrition sclerophylly strength toughness