Contrasting photosynthetic characteristics of forest vs. savanna species (Far North Queensland, Australia)
Abstract. Forest and savanna are the two dominant vegetation types of the tropical regions with very few tree species common to both. At a broad scale, it has long been recognised that the distributions of these two biomes are principally governed by precipitation and its seasonality, but with soil physical and chemical properties also potentially important. For tree species drawn from a range of forest and savanna sites in tropical Far North Queensland, Australia, we compared leaf traits of photosynthetic capacity, structure and nutrient concentrations. Area-based photosynthetic capacity was higher for the savanna species with a steeper slope to the photosynthesis ↔ nitrogen (N) relationship compared with the forest group. Higher leaf mass per unit leaf area for the savanna trees derived from denser rather than thicker leaves and did not appear to restrict rates of light-saturated photosynthesis when expressed on either an area or mass basis. Median ratios of foliar N to phosphorus (P) were relatively high (>20) at all sites, but we found no evidence for a dominant P limitation of photosynthesis for either forest or savanna trees. A parsimonious mixed-effects model of area-based photosynthetic capacity retained vegetation type and both N and P as explanatory terms. Resulting model-fitted predictions suggested a good fit to the observed data (R2 = 0.82). The model's random component found variation in area-based photosynthetic response to be much greater among species (71% of response variance) than across sites (9%). These results suggest that, on a leaf-area basis, savanna trees of Far North Queensland, Australia, are capable of photosynthetically outperforming forest species at their common boundaries.