Leaf traits in Chilean matorral: Sclerophylly within, among, and beyond matorral, and its environmental determinants

Jennifer Read, Gordon Sanson, María Fernanda Pérez Trautmann

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Studies of leaf traits often focus on tradeoffs between growth and resource conservation, but little is known about variation in the mechanical traits that influence resource conservation. This study investigates how leaf mechanical traits vary across matorral vegetation in central Chile, how they correlate with environmental factors, and how these trends compare at a broader geographic scale. Leaf toughness, strength, stiffness, and associated traits were measured in five matorral types in central Chile, and relationships with soil N and P and climate variables were assessed. Trends with soil and climate were then analyzed across shrubland and woodland in Chile, Western Australia, and New Caledonia. Chilean species varied in leaf mechanics and associated traits, both within and among matorral types, with more species in sclerophyll matorral having strong, tough, and stiff leaves than in arid and littoral matorral. Overall, leaves with high leaf dry mass per area were stiffer, tougher, stronger, thicker, denser, with more fiber, lignin, phenolics and fiber per unit protein and less protein: tannin activity and N and P per mass, forming a broad sclerophylly syndrome. Mechanical traits of matorral species were not correlated with soil N or P, or predictably with climate variables, except flexural stiffness (EIW) which correlated positively with annual reference evapotranspiration (ET0). However, soil P made strong independent contributions to variation in leaf mechanics across shrublands and woodlands of Chile, Western Australia, and New Caledonia, either separately (strength) or together with ET0 (toughness) explaining 46-90% of variation. Hence ET0 was predictive of EIW in Chilean matorral, whereas soil P was highly predictive of variation in leaf strength, and combined with ET0 was highly predictive of toughness, at a broader geographic scale. The biological basis of these relationships, however, may be complex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1430-1446
Number of pages17
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Chile
  • ET
  • Leaf toughness
  • Leaf traits
  • Matorral
  • Sclerophylly
  • Soil nutrients
  • Soil phosphorus

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