The successional status of tropical rainforest tree species is associated with differences in leaf carbon isotope discrimination and functional traits


We characterised the among species variability in leaf gas exchange and morphological traits under controlled conditions of seedlings of 22 tropical rainforest canopy species to understand the origin of the variability in leaf carbon isotope discrimination (Delta) among species with different growth and dynamic characteristics (successional gradient). Our results first suggest that these species pursue a consistent strategy in terms of Delta throughout their ontogeny (juveniles grown here versus canopy adult trees from the natural forest). Second, leaf Delta was negatively correlated with WUE and N, and positively correlated with $g_{st}$, but among species differences in Delta were mainly explained by differences in WUE. Finally, species belonging to different successional groups display distinct leaf functional and morphological traits. We confirmed that fast growing early successional species maximise carbon assimilation with high stomatal conductance. In contrast, fast and slow growing late successional species are both characterised by low carbon assimilation values, but by distinct stomatal conductance and leaf morphological features. Along the successional gradient, these differences result in much lower Delta for the intermediate species (i.e. fast growing late successional) as compared to the two other groups.

Annals of Forest Science