eMonocot Cyperaceae

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Phylogenetically balanced evidence for structural and carbon isotope responses in plants along elevational gradients

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2010
Authors:Zhu, Y., Siegwolf, R. T. W., Durka, W., Korner C.
Journal:Oecologia
Volume:162
Pagination:853-863
Keywords:allocation, altitude, atmospheric pressure, delta-c-13, discrimination, elevation, morphology, reproduction, TEMPERATURE, traits
Abstract:

We tested three hypotheses related to the functioning of mountain plants, namely their reproductive effort, leaf surface structure and effectiveness of CO(2) assimilation, using archive material from contrasting elevations. Analysis of elevational trends is at risk of suffering from two major biases: a phylogenetic bias (i.e. an elevational change in the abundance of taxonomic groups), and covariation of different environmental drivers (e.g. water, temperature, atmospheric pressure), which do not permit a mechanistic interpretation. We solved both problems in a subcontinental survey of elevational trends in key plant traits in the European Alps and the high Arctic (northern Sweden, Svalbard), using herbarium samples of 147 species belonging to the genera Carex, Saxifraga and Potentilla. We used both species and phylogenetically independent contrasts as data points. The analysis revealed enhanced reproductive efforts at higher elevation in insect-pollinated taxa (not in wind-pollinated taxa), no increase in leaf pubescence at high elevation (as is often assumed), and a strong correlation between (13)C discrimination and elevation. Alpine taxa operate at a smaller mesophyll resistance to CO(2) uptake relative to diffusive resistance (stomata). By comparison with congeneric low altitude polar taxa (low temperature, but high atmospheric pressure), the response could be attributed to the elevational decline in atmospheric pressure rather than temperature (a mean increase in delta(13)C by 1.4aEuro degrees km(-1)). The signal is consistent within and across genera and within species, suggesting rapid adjustment of leaf physiology to reduced partial pressure of CO(2). These results offer answers to long-debated issues of plant responses to high elevation life conditions.

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