Papers in the Biological Sciences



Christian Elowsky

Date of this Version



Published in the American Journal of Botany (2010) 97(7): 1,109-1,120. DOI: 10.3732/ajb.0900344. Copyright 2010, Botanical Society of America. Used by permission.


Premise of the study: Quantifying variation in functional traits associated with shifts in the species composition of plant communities along resource gradients helps identify environmental attributes important for community assembly. Stomates regulate the balance between carbon assimilation and water status in plants. If environmental attributes affecting photosynthetic water-use efficiency govern species distribution along an edaphic gradient, then adaptive variation in stomatal traits of plant species specializing on different soils should reflect belowground resource availability.

Methods: We tested this hypothesis by quantifying stomatal trait variation in understory saplings of 28 Bornean tree species in relation to gas exchange and water-use effi ciency (WUE).

Key results: Comparisons between congeneric specialists of the more fertile, moister clay and the less fertile, well-drained sandy loam revealed little evidence of similar shifts in stomatal traits across genera, nor was stomatal pore index correlated with gmax , Amax , or WUE (Amax/gmax or Δ13C), suggesting that stomates may be overbuilt in these shaded juveniles. Amax was higher on sandy loam, likely due to higher understory irradiance there, but there were no other signifi cant differences in gas exchange or WUE.

Conclusions: Despite substantial diversity in stomatal anatomy, there were few strong relationships between stomatal, photosynthetic, and WUE traits in relation to soil resources. Routine differences in water availability therefore may not exert a dominant control on the distributions of these Bornean tree species. Furthermore, the clades represented by these 12 genera may possess alternative functional designs enabling photosynthetic WUE that is suffi cient to these humid, understory environments, due to whole plant-functional integration of stomatal traits with other, unmeasured traits infl uencing gas exchange.

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