The relevance of seed size in modulating leaf physiology and early plant performance in two tree species
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The size of seeds and the microsite of seed dispersal may affect the early establishment of seedlings through different physiological processes. Here, we examined the effects of seed size and light availability on seedling growth and survival, and whether such effects were mediated by water use efficiency. Acorns of Quercus petraea and the more drought-tolerant Quercus pyrenaica were sowed within and around a tree canopy gap in a sub-Mediterranean forest stand. We monitored seedling emergence and measured predawn leaf water potential (Ψpd), leaf nitrogen per unit area (Na), leaf mass per area, leaf carbon isotope composition (δ13C) and plant growth at the end of the first summer. Survival was measured on the next year. Path analysis revealed a consistent pattern in both species of higher δ13C as Ψpd decreased and higher δ13C as seedlings emerged later in the season, indicating an increase in 13C as the growing season is shorter and drier. There was a direct positive effect of seed size on δ13C in Q. petraea that was absent in Q. pyrenaica. Leaf δ13C had no effect on growth but the probability of surviving until the second year was higher for those seedlings of Q. pyrenaica that had lower δ13C on the first year. In conclusion, leaf δ13C is affected by seed size, seedling emergence time and the availability of light and water, however, leaf δ13C is irrelevant for first year growth, which is directly dependent on the amount of seed reserves.
KeywordsPhenology Water stress Recruitment Seedling survival 13C
We thank Guillermo González Gordaliza and Jesús Alonso for their helpful assistance in the field and Matthew T. Robson and Javier Cano for helping measuring and sowing the acorns. We are also grateful to Ruben Milla for advice on path analysis and critical reading of the manuscript, and Nicolas Fanin for constructive comments on data analysis. This work was supported by funding from projects CCG07-UPM/AMB-1865 and SUM2008-00004-C03-01.
Conflict of interest
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