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Relative growth rate of leaf biomass and leaf nitrogen content in several mediterranean woody species

Mediavilla, S., Escudero, A.
Plant ecology 2003 v.168 no.2 pp. 321-332
Mediterranean climate, trees, shrubs, deciduous forests, Pinus, Quercus, leaf area, leaves, nitrogen content, dry matter accumulation, plant growth, photosynthesis, gas exchange, water use efficiency, resorption, predation, fruiting, nutrient uptake, spring, summer, Spain
In many plant species, herbivory is a major determinant of leaf mortality and it can cause a strong reduction in productive potential. Most predation occurs on young, expanding leaves. Thus, a rapid growth of the leaves can reduce the impact of predation. Furthermore, in cold Mediterranean climates the length of the growing season is constrained to a short period in spring and early summer owing both to low winter temperatures and drought stress in early summer. Therefore, a rapid deployment of leaf area and a high photosynthetic capacity during the spring and early summer might have important positive effects on the final carbon balance of the leaf population. Relative growth rates (RGR) of leaf biomass were measured in 19 woody species typical of Central Western Spain with deciduous and evergreen habits. Highly significant differences were detected in the leaf growth rate of the different species. The differences between species, however, did not correlate either with the mean leaf life-span of each of the species or with other leaf traits such as photosynthetic capacity, specific leaf area or nitrogen content. Leaf growth rate was positively correlated with time elapsed between leaf initiation and fruit maturation, so that species with fruit dispersal in spring and early summer in general had lower leaf growth rates than species with autumn fruit shedding. This relationship shows the effects of the concurrence between vegetative and reproductive organs for nutrients and other resources. Nitrogen concentration in the leaves was very high at the time of bud break, and declined during leaf expansion owing to the dilution associated with the increase in structural components. The rate of nitrogen dilution was, thus, positively related to the leaf growth rate. Relative growth rates calculated for nitrogen mass in leaves were very low compared to the growth in total mass. This suggests that most leaf nitrogen is translocated from the plant stores to the leaf biomass before the start of leaf expansion and that the contribution of root uptake during leaf expansion is comparatively low.