Ecological variations of woody species along an altitudinal gradient in the Qinling Mountains of Central China: area-based versus mass-based expression of leaf traits

  • Yongfu Chai
  • Hailin Shang
  • Xiaofei Zhang
  • Ruichang Zhang
  • Xiao Liu
  • Ming YueEmail author
Original Paper


Leaf trait-based research has become the preferred method to understand the ecological strategies of plants. However, there is still a debate on whether area-based or mass-based traits provide different insights into environmental adaptations and responses. In this study, seven key leaf traits (maximum net photosynthetic rate, dark respiration rate, nitrogen content, photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency, leaf mass per area, leaf dry matter contents and leaf area) of 43 woody species were quantified on the basis of both area and mass along an altitudinal gradient (1100–2700 m) in the Qinling Mountains of China. Differences in leaf traits and bivariate correlations between the two expressions were compared. By considering different expressions, the strengths and directions of the responses of leaf traits to the altitudinal gradient were determined. Leaf traits showed large variations; interspecific variations contributed more to total variance than intraspecific variations. Bivariate correlations between photosynthetic traits and structural traits (mass per area, dry matter content, and area) were weaker on a mass basis than those on an area basis. Most traits exhibited quadratic trends along the altitudinal gradient, and these patterns were more noticeable for area-based than mass-based traits. Area-based traits were more sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation associated with altitude. These results provide evidence that mass- versus area-based traits show different ecological responses to environmental conditions associated with altitude, even if they do not contain very broad spatial scales. Our results also indicate distinction of photosynthetic acclimation among the two expressions along an altitudinal gradient, reflecting trade-offs among leaf structure and physiological traits.


Altitude modulation Bivariate relationship Leaf trait Qinling Mountains 



We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Pengcheng Wan and Mao Wang with field work and Jiangchao Guo with data processing.

Supplementary material

11676_2019_1060_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2372 kb)


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Copyright information

© Northeast Forestry University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yongfu Chai
    • 1
  • Hailin Shang
    • 1
  • Xiaofei Zhang
    • 2
  • Ruichang Zhang
    • 3
  • Xiao Liu
    • 1
  • Ming Yue
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Resource Biology and Biotechnology in Western China (Northwest University)Ministry of EducationXi’anChina
  2. 2.Environmental Protection Research InstituteXi’an Research Institute of China Coal Technology and Engineering Group CorpXi’anChina
  3. 3.Plant Ecology DepartmentUniversity of TuebingenTuebingenGermany

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