Leaf heteroblasty in eucalypts: Biogeographic evidence of ecological function

Carolyn Vlasveld, Benjamin O'Leary, Frank Udovicic, Martin Burd

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Leaves that develop on seedlings, young saplings or regenerative shoots of many eucalypt species are strikingly different in morphology from the typical leaves of more mature plants a developmental pattern known as heteroblasty. We measured dimorphism between juvenile and adult leaves in shape and size, leaf mass per unit area, and vein frequency in a continent-wide sample of Angophora, Corymbia and Eucalyptus species. We tested whether heteroblasty in this group is an adaptation to shading by comparing the degree of juvenile-adult leaf dimorphism with the canopy closure (measured by the leaf area index) of the habitat in which species occurred. No pattern emerged for heteroblasty in leaf shape and size or leaf mass per unit area, but there was a significant relationship (accounting for phylogenetic relationships) between the degree of juvenile-adult dimorphism in vein frequency and habitat leaf area index. Juvenile leaves tended to have more widely spaced veins than adult leaves of the same species, in regions with more closed vegetative canopies. This evidence suggests that eucalypt heteroblasty is, at least in part, a hydraulic adaptation to the different conditions faced by younger and older plants in higher productivity regions with denser vegetation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-201
Number of pages11
JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Angophora
  • Biogeography
  • Corymbia
  • Eucalypt
  • Eucalyptus
  • Leaf morphology
  • Leaf venation

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