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Leaf carbon and oxygen isotopes are coordinated with the leaf economics spectrum in Mediterranean rangeland species

Prieto, Iván, Querejeta, José I., Segrestin, Jules, Volaire, Florence, Roumet, Catherine
Functional ecology 2018 v.32 no.3 pp. 612-625
carbon, dry matter content, economics, environmental factors, herbaceous plants, irrigation, leaf area, leaf morphology, leaves, nitrogen, nutrient content, nutrients, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium, principal component analysis, rangelands, stable isotopes, stomatal conductance, water use efficiency, water utilization, France
The leaf economics spectrum (LES) describes covariation in traits relevant to carbon and nutrient economics across plant species, but much less is known about the relationship between the LES and leaf water economy. We propose an approach combining the measurement of two leaf traits related to water‐use economy, leaf carbon (δ¹³C) and oxygen (δ¹⁸O) isotopic composition, and the measurement of leaf morphological and nutrient traits to investigate the link between leaf carbon and nutrient economics and water use. We tested the relationships between leaf traits linked to carbon and nutrient use within the LES and water‐use traits using leaf δ¹⁸O as a proxy of stomatal conductance (gₛ) and δ¹³C as a proxy of intrinsic water‐use efficiency (WUEᵢ) across 15 Mediterranean rangeland species grown in an irrigated common garden and in a natural rangeland in Southern France. The target species spanned a wide range of variation in leaf morphological and nutrient trait values and a wide range of leaf δ¹⁸O and δ¹³C values. Principal component analysis revealed multiple associations among leaf morphology, nutrients and isotopic composition, with the first axis alone explaining 56.0% of the total variation across species. Leaf δ¹⁸O and δ¹³C covaried with leaf morphology and leaf nutrient concentrations along a single resource‐use axis. Species with high leaf δ¹⁸O and δ¹³C (low gₛ and high WUEᵢ) exhibited a resource‐conservative strategy (high leaf dry matter content, low leaf N, P and K), whereas species with low leaf δ¹⁸O and δ¹³C (high gₛ and low WUEᵢ) showed a more resource‐acquisitive strategy (high specific leaf area and leaf N, P and K). These leaf trait syndromes and resource‐use strategies were strongly conserved across sites with contrasting environmental conditions, indicating that foliar δ¹⁸O and δ¹³C can be included as an integral part of the LES for this set of rangeland species. Overall, the data suggest a tight coupling and coordination between water, carbon and nutrient‐use strategies across herbaceous plant species. A dual δ¹⁸O and δ¹³C isotope approach combined with LES trait measurements is a promising tool to more comprehensively assess the diversity of resource‐use strategies among coexisting plant species. A plain language summary is available for this article.