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Functional leaf traits indicate phylogenetic signals in forests across an elevational gradient in the central Himalaya

A Correction to this article was published on 06 May 2021

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Abstract

Traits are the primary attributes that distinguish a species niche. Species and higher taxa are part of a structured phylogeny, and variation in plant traits depends on lineage as well as on environmental conditions. Therefore, it is crucial to investigate linkages between taxonomic identity, shared ancestry, and environment for understanding the variation in leaf traits. We investigated the evolutionary relationships, based on multiple gene sequences among 26 plant species sampled along an elevational gradient from 650 to 3600 m a.s.l. in the central Himalaya. We tested for the phylogenetic signal based on three different measures in 10 leaf traits having a significant association with the resource acquisition-conservation trade-offs axis and influencing plant growth, development, and ecological performance. We further assessed the role of elevation and growth forms as the potential drivers of leaf traits variation while controlling for phylogeny. 5 out of 10 leaf traits showed significant phylogenetic signal. Plant species clustered more often by growth forms at the tips of the phylogeny indicating multiple instances of independent evolution. Evergreen taxa showed niche separation with deciduous and incorporated larger trait variation. Trait variations were guided by both growth forms and elevation when accounted for phylogeny. Growth form has a higher contribution to trait variation compared to elevation. Trade-offs were detected between resource conservation and resource acquisition machinery traits (that would maximise carbon gain), differing between growth forms and along elevation.

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Acknowledgements

MK acknowledges the financial support provided by the Council for scientific and industrial research (CSIR) under the award no: 09/263 (1023)/2014-EMR-1. We are thankful to Dr. Kundong Bai (Guangxi institute of Botany, Guilin China) and Dr. Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo for their initial comments. MK is grateful to Akash ajay (PhD scholar) for his initial help. We thank Anoop Rawat for assisting during field work. We sincerely appreciate and thank both the reviewers and editors for the detailed suggestions on our previous draft.

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MK, SCG conceptualised the original study. MK collected field data, performed leaf trait measurements. MK & JW led the analysis of the data. MK wrote the manuscript with the guidance provided by JW, SCG and JP. All authors contributed substantially to the drafts and gave final approval for the publication.

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Correspondence to Satish Chandra Garkoti.

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The original online version of this article is revised due to the following sentence “taxa to accumulate a larger fraction of leaf dry mass before the arrival of the rainy season (LmRS).” was separated from the previous sentence and published as two paragraphs. It has been corrected in this version.

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Krishna, M., Winternitz, J., Garkoti, S.C. et al. Functional leaf traits indicate phylogenetic signals in forests across an elevational gradient in the central Himalaya. J Plant Res 134, 753–764 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10265-021-01289-1

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Keywords

  • Adaptive traits
  • Carbon gain
  • Elevation
  • Growth forms
  • Phylogeny
  • Resource acquisition
  • Resource conservation