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Structural defence is coupled with the leaf economic spectrum across saplings of spiny species


Armani, Mohammed et al. (2020), Structural defence is coupled with the leaf economic spectrum across saplings of spiny species, Dryad, Dataset,


Given that the rate of resource capture constrains plant growth and defence, understanding the linkage between the leaf economic spectrum (LES) and defence and how it contributes to growth is central to predicting species performance. In spite of the prevalence of spiny plants in many plant communities, little is known about how the LES relates to defence and growth rate across these species. We grew 42 spiny species, from diverse environments, under common garden conditions for 15 weeks and measured LES (leaf N, SLA and assimilation rate), defence and growth traits. We assessed general relationships between LES and growth rate and tested whether structural defences (spines, leaf fibre and lignin content) and quantitative chemical defences (condensed tannins) are linked to the LES and growth and if different spine types (i.e. leaf spines, stipular spines, prickles and thorns), with distinct anatomical origins, partition out across the LES. We observed two independent trait axes that together explained ~68% of trait variation across species. The first axis showed that structural defences (spines, leaf fibre and lignin content) trade off with leaf productivity along the LES. Axis 2 revealed that condensed tannins is orthogonal and less integrated with the LES-structural defence axis. Bivariate trait analyses disclosed positive covariations between LES traits and sapling growth rate. All structural defence traits were negatively related to sapling growth. Across spine types, species with leaf spines were associated with the conservative end of the LES, characterized by  high structural defences and lower leaf productivity relative to other spine types. Our study shows that the LES and structural defences are coupled in spiny species such that constitutive growth – defence strategies range from fast-growing species with low allocation to defences to slow-growing species that invest heavily in structural defences (dominated by leaf spiny species).


See companion article for details of data collection.


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31470449

Guangxi 100 Talent Grant (to UMG)