Shifts in community leaf functional traits are related to litter decomposition along a secondary forest succession series in subtropical China
Created at: 2014-09-29
Envisaged journal: Journal of Plant Ecology; doi: 10.1093/jpe/rtu021
Envisaged date: 2014-08-29
We investigated shifts in community weighted mean traits (CWM) of 14 leaf functional traits along a secondary successional series in an evergreen broadleaf forest in subtropical southeast China. Most of the investigated traits have been reported to affect litter decomposition in previous studies. We asked whether changes in CWMs along secondary succession followed similar patterns for all investigated traits and whether the shifts in CWM indicated a change in resource use strategy along the successional gradient. Using community decomposition rates (k-rates) estimated from annual litter production and standing litter biomass, we asked whether the dynamics of litter decomposition were related to changes in leaf functional traits along the successional series.
Shifts in CWM values generally followed logarithmic patterns for all investigated traits, whereas community k-rates remained stable along the successional gradient. In summary, the shifts in CWM values indicate a change in community resource use strategy from high nutrient acquisition to nutrient retention with ongoing succession. Stands with higher CWM values of traits related to nutrient acquisition had also higher CWM values of traits related to chemical resistance, whereas stands with higher CWM values of traits related to nutrient retention exhibited higher CWM values in leaf physical defense. Moreover, high values in CWM values related to nutritional quality (such as high leaf phosphorus concentrations) were found to promote community k-rates, whereas high values in physical or chemical defense traits (such as high contents in polyphenols or high leaf toughness) decreased litter decomposition rates. In consequence, litter decomposition, which was simultaneously affected by these characteristics, did not change significantly along succession. Our findings show that leaf decomposition within the investigated communities is dependent on the interplay of several traits and is a result from interactions of traits that affect decomposition in opposing directions.
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