Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of Eucalyptus and Acacia species along a seasonal rainfall gradient in Western Australia
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Eucalyptus and Acacia species were surprisingly similar with respect to variations in δ 13 C, δ 15 N. Both genera respond with speciation and associated changes in leaf structure to drought.
Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) in leaves of eucalypts (Corymbia and Eucalyptus) and Acacia (and some additional Fabaceae) species were investigated together with specific leaf area (SLA), leaf nitrogen (N) and leaf phosphorous (P) concentration along a north–south transect through Western Australia covering winter- and summer-dominated rainfall between 100 and 1,200 mm annually. We investigated 62 eucalypts and 78 woody Fabaceae species, mainly of the genus Acacia. Leaf δ13C values of Eucalyptus and Acacia species generally increased linearly with latitude from −29.5 ± 1.3 ‰ in the summer-dominated rainfall zone (15°S–18°S) to about −25.7 ± 1.1 ‰ in the winter-dominated rainfall zone (29°S–31°S). δ15N increased initially with southern latitudes (0.5 ± 1.6 ‰ at 15°S; 5.8 ± 3.3 ‰ at 24–29°S) but decreased again further South (4.6 ± 3.5 ‰ at 31°S). The variation in δ13C and δ15N was probably due to speciation of Eucalyptus and Acacia into very local populations. There were no species that were distributed over the whole sampling area. The variation in leaf traits was larger between species than within species. Average nitrogen concentrations were 11.9 ± 1.05 mg g−1 in Eucalyptus, and were 18.7 ± 4.1 mg g−1 in Acacia. Even though the average nitrogen concentration was higher in Acacia than Eucalyptus, δ15N gave no clear indication for N2 fixation in Acacia. In a multiple regression, latitude (as a surrogate for rainfall seasonality), mean rainfall, leaf nitrogen concentration, specific leaf area and nitrogen fixation were significant and explained 69 % of the variation of δ13C, but only 36 % of the variation of δ15N. Higher nitrogen and phosphorus concentration could give Acacia an advantage over Eucalyptus in arid regions of undefined rainfall seasonality.
KeywordsNitrogen fixation Speciation Drought Summer rainfall Winter rainfall
We acknowledge the help of Ludwig Leidinger and Jens Schumacher with R-statistical package and the multivariate analysis of isotope data. We also acknowledge the support of Malcolm French in identifying some of the problematic Eucalyptus species in the field, and of Bob Nicolle during the fieldwork, and of Iris Kuhlmann, Ines Hilke and Heike Geilmann for processing the samples and maintaining the database. We thank an unknown referee for very valuable comments.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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