Articles | Volume 6, issue 8
10 Aug 2009
 | 10 Aug 2009

Spatial trends in leaf size of Amazonian rainforest trees

A. C. M. Malhado, Y. Malhi, R. J. Whittaker, R. J. Ladle, H. ter Steege, O. L. Phillips, N. Butt, L. E. O. C. Aragão, C. A. Quesada, A. Araujo-Murakami, L. Arroyo, J. Peacock, G. Lopez-Gonzalez, T. R. Baker, L. O. Anderson, S. Almeida, N. Higuchi, T. J. Killeen, A. Monteagudo, D. Neill, N. Pitman, A. Prieto, R. P. Salomão, R. Vásquez-Martínez, and W. F. Laurance

Abstract. Leaf size influences many aspects of tree function such as rates of transpiration and photosynthesis and, consequently, often varies in a predictable way in response to environmental gradients. The recent development of pan-Amazonian databases based on permanent botanical plots has now made it possible to assess trends in leaf size across environmental gradients in Amazonia. Previous plot-based studies have shown that the community structure of Amazonian trees breaks down into at least two major ecological gradients corresponding with variations in soil fertility (decreasing from southwest to northeast) and length of the dry season (increasing from northwest to south and east). Here we describe the geographic distribution of leaf size categories based on 121 plots distributed across eight South American countries. We find that the Amazon forest is predominantly populated by tree species and individuals in the mesophyll size class (20.25–182.25 cm2). The geographic distribution of species and individuals with large leaves (>20.25 cm2) is complex but is generally characterized by a higher proportion of such trees in the northwest of the region. Spatially corrected regressions reveal weak correlations between the proportion of large-leaved species and metrics of water availability. We also find a significant negative relationship between leaf size and wood density.

Final-revised paper