Oak leaf morphology may be more strongly shaped by climate than by phylogeny

Martín-Sánchez, R., Sancho-Knapik, D., Alonso-Forn, D. López-Ballesteros, A., Ferrio, J.P., Hipp, A.L., Peguero-Pina, J.J., Gil-Pelegrín, E. (2024). Oak leaf morphology may be more strongly shaped by climate than by phylogeny. Annals of Forest Science 81, 14 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13595-024-01232-z

Key message
Despite been grown under the same climate, oak species are able to correlate with looser, but still identifiable, leaf morphological syndromes, composed by morphological traits with an ecological role in their respective macroclimates.

Environmental restrictions imposed by climate have been shown to modulate leaf morphology. A reduction of leaf area in hot and dry climates reduces overheating because of a thinner boundary layer. Lobed shapes enhance hydraulic conductivity and faster cooling. Elongated leaves drain more quickly under high precipitation. Trichomes may help to reduce the effects of excessive sun exposure in hot and dry environments. Leaf mass per area (LMA) increases in stressful environments.

To assess the influence of global climate and clade on oak leaf syndromes comprising morphological traits with ecological roles.

We analyzed seven morphological traits in 141 oak species grown in a botanical garden, characterized into five macroclimates, and explored the partial effects of clade and climate.

We found significant associations between macroclimate and every morphological trait measured. Temperate species tend to have large, obovate, lobed, malacophyllous leaves. Species occurring in dry habitats usually present small, rounded, pubescent, sclerophyllous leaves. Warm and wet climates induce the development of slender, lanceolate, glabrous leaves with an acuminate apex.

The functional roles of the different morphological traits are partially confirmed in genus Quercus as a response to the different macroclimates, where different leaf syndromes can be distinguished.

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