Habitat Adaptation Mediates the Influence of Leaf Traits on Canopy Productivity: Evidence from a Tropical Freshwater Swamp Forest

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Functional traits offer generalizability to the prediction of ecosystem processes such as production, and community-weighted mean trait values are increasingly used for such predictions. However, the underlying causal direction between traits and ecosystem processes are often indirect and sometimes even tenuous. In this study, we aimed to uncover underlying causal mechanisms between traits, habitat adaptation and canopy productivity. We used canopy production data estimated from leaf litter traps, and trait and habitat association data obtained from 40 permanent vegetation plots in the Nee Soon catchment in Singapore, which contains a heterogeneous mix of freshwater swamp and dry-land tropical forests. Mean canopy production across the catchment was estimated to be 768 g m−2 year−1, which is similar to other tropical dry-land forests in the region. Biweekly per-basal-area canopy production was found to be consistently lower in swamp than non-swamp plots, and positively correlated with monthly mean temperature. Structural equation models fitted to data of canopy production, leaf traits, plot type (swamp versus non-swamp), basal areas and habitat adaptations of 69 tree species–plot combinations suggested that tree species possessing leaf traits associated with more conservative resource acquisition strategies, viz. low specific leaf area, high leaf C:N ratio, and thicker leaves, are better adapted to stressful, waterlogged swamp conditions, but that this adaptation also reduces canopy—and likely total—net primary productivity. These observations suggest that the stressful conditions of waterlogged, anoxic swamp habitats significantly reduce the rate at which nutrients are cycled by communities found in such environments. View source


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Form: Journal Article
Geographical Area: Singapore

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