Deciduous and evergreen oaks show contrasting adaptive responses in leaf mass per area across environments
Increases in leaf mass per area (LMA) are commonly observed in response to environmental stresses and are achieved through increases in leaf thickness and/or leaf density. Here, we investigated how the two underlying components of LMA differ in relation to species native climates and phylogeny, across deciduous and evergreen species.
Using a phylogenetic approach, we quantified anatomical, compositional and climatic variables from 40 deciduous and 45 evergreen Quercus species from across the Northern Hemisphere growing in a common garden.
Deciduous species from shorter growing seasons tended to have leaves with lower LMA and leaf thickness than those from longer growing seasons, while the opposite pattern was found for evergreens. For both habits, LMA and thickness increased in arid environments. However, this shift was associated with increased leaf density in evergreens but reduced density in deciduous species.
Deciduous and evergreen oaks showed fundamental leaf morphological differences that revealed a diverse adaptive response. While LMA in deciduous species may have diversified in tight coordination with thickness mainly modulated by aridity, diversification of LMA within evergreens appears to be dependent on the infrageneric group, with diversification in leaf thickness modulated by both aridity and cold, while diversification in leaf density is only modulated by aridity.