, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 924–935 | Cite as

Altitudinal Change in LAI and Stand Leaf Biomass in Tropical Montane Forests: a Transect Study in Ecuador and a Pan-Tropical Meta-Analysis

  • Gerald Moser
  • Dietrich Hertel
  • Christoph LeuschnerEmail author


Leaf area index (LAI) is a key parameter controlling plant productivity and biogeochemical fluxes between vegetation and the atmosphere. Tropical forests are thought to have comparably high LAIs; however, precise data are scarce and environmental controls of leaf area in tropical forests are not understood. We studied LAI and stand leaf biomass by optical and leaf mass-related approaches in five tropical montane forests along an elevational transect (1,050–3,060 m a.s.l.) in South Ecuador, and conducted a meta-analysis of LAI and leaf biomass data from tropical montane forests around the globe. Study aims were (1) to assess the applicability of indirect and direct approaches of LAI determination in tropical montane forests, (2) to analyze elevation effects on leaf area, leaf mass, SLA, and leaf lifespan, and (3) to assess the possible consequences of leaf area change with elevation for montane forest productivity. Indirect optical methods of LAI determination appeared to be less reliable in the complex canopies than direct leaf mass-related approaches based on litter trapping and a thorough analysis of leaf lifespan. LAI decreased by 40–60% between 1,000 and 3,000 m in the Ecuador transect and also in the pan-tropical data set. This decrease indicates that canopy carbon gain, that is, carbon source strength, decreases with elevation in tropical montane forests. Average SLA decreased from 88 to 61 cm2 g−1 whereas leaf lifespan increased from 16 to 25 mo between 1,050 and 3,060 m in the Ecuador transect. In contrast, stand leaf biomass was much less influenced by elevation. We conclude that elevation has a large influence not only on the leaf traits of trees but also on the LAI of tropical montane forests with soil N (nitrogen) supply presumably being the main controlling factor.


elevation gradient LAI leaf biomass leaf lifespan leaf litter production specific leaf area tropical montane forest 



We thank P. Emck and M. Richter (University of Erlangen) for supplying the rainfall data and S. Iost and F. Makeschin (University of Dresden) for providing the pH and soil C/N ratio data. We are also grateful to M. Unger (University of Göttingen) for data on SLA, leaf chemistry and radiation and to J. Homeier (University of Göttingen) for support in taking hemispherical photographs. Further, we want to thank M. Küppers (University of Hohenheim) who provided a second LAI-2000 instrument. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support offered by DFG (Germain Science Foundation) through a grant in the Research Unit 402 (Functionality in a Tropical Mountain Forest, subproject B8). We thank the Ministerio del Ambiente Loja-Zamora for granting a research permit, and the Fundación Científica San Francisco (Nature and Culture International) for the ongoing support at Estación Científica San Francisco.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald Moser
    • 1
  • Dietrich Hertel
    • 1
  • Christoph Leuschner
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Plant Ecology, Albrecht von Haller Institute for Plant SciencesUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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