Linking leaf economic and hydraulic traits with early-age growth performance and survival of Eucalyptus pauciflora
Costa e Silva, J and Potts, BM and Wiehl, G and Prober, SM, Linking leaf economic and hydraulic traits with early-age growth performance and survival of Eucalyptus pauciflora, Frontiers in Plant Science, (13) Article 973087. ISSN 1664-462X (2022) [Refereed Article]
Selection on plant functional traits may occur through their direct effects on fitness (or a fitness component), or may be mediated by attributes of plant performance which have a direct impact on fitness. Understanding this link is particularly challenging for long-lived organisms, such as forest trees, where lifetime fitness assessments are rarely achievable, and performance features and fitness components are usually quantified from early-life history stages. Accordingly, we studied a cohort of trees from multiple populations of Eucalyptus pauciflora grown in a common-garden field trial established at the hot and dry end of the species distribution on the island of Tasmania, Australia. We related the within-population variation in leaf economic (leaf thickness, leaf area and leaf density) and hydraulic (stomatal density, stomatal length and vein density) traits, measured from two-year-old plants, to two-year growth performance (height and stem diameter) and to a fitness component (seven-year survival). When performance-trait relationships were modelled for all traits simultaneously, statistical support for direct effects on growth performance was only observed for leaf thickness and leaf density. Performance-based estimators of directional selection indicated that individuals with reduced leaf thickness and increased leaf density were favoured. Survival-performance relationships were consistent with size-dependent mortality, with fitness-based selection gradients estimated for performance measures providing evidence for directional selection favouring individuals with faster growth. There was no statistical support for an effect associated with the fitness-based quadratic selection gradient estimated for growth performance. Conditional on a performance measure, fitness-based directional selection gradients estimated for the leaf traits did not provide statistical support for direct effects of the focal traits on tree survival. This suggested that, under the environmental conditions of the trial site and time period covered in the current study, early-stage selection on the studied leaf traits may be mediated by their effects on growth performance, which in turn has a positive direct influence on later-age survival. We discuss the potential mechanistic basis of the direct effects of the focal leaf traits on tree growth, and the relevance of a putative causal pathway of trait effects on fitness through mediation by growth performance in the studied hot and dry environment.
Directional selection, selection gradients, leaf thickness and leaf density, leaf area, stomatal density and stomatal length, vein density, growth performance, tree survival