Complex trait relationships between leaves and absorptive roots: Coordination in tissue N concentration but divergence in morphology

Ecology and Evolution
Ruili WangNianpeng He


Leaves and absorptive roots (i.e., first-order root) are above- and belowground plant organs related to resource acquisition; however, it is controversy over whether these two sets of functional traits vary in a coordinated manner. Here, we examined the relationships between analogous above- and belowground traits, including chemical (tissue C and N concentrations) and morphological traits (thickness and diameter, specific leaf area and root length, and tissue density) of 154 species sampling from eight subtropical and temperate forests. Our results showed that N concentrations of leaves and absorptive roots were positively correlated independent of phylogeny and plant growth forms, whereas morphological traits between above- and belowground organs varied independently. These results indicate that, different from plant economics spectrum theory, there is a complex integration of diverse adaptive strategies of plant species to above- and belowground environments, with convergent adaptation in nutrient traits but divergence in morphological traits across plant organs. Our results offer a new perspective for understanding the resource capture strategies of plants in adaptation to heterogeneous environments, and stress the importan...Continue Reading


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