Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Relationships among leaf traits of Australian arid zone plants: alternative modes of thermal protection

Ellen M. Curtis A C , Andrea Leigh A and Scott Rayburg B

A School of the Environment, University of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia.

B Water Resources Engineering Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure, Swinburne University of Technology, PO Box 218, Hawthorn, Vic. 3122, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: ellen.curtis@uts.edu.au

Australian Journal of Botany 60(6) 471-483 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT11284
Submitted: 21 October 2011  Accepted: 25 May 2012   Published: 31 August 2012

Abstract

Despite the importance of leaf traits that protect against critically high leaf temperatures, relationships among such traits have not been investigated. Further, while some leaf trait relationships are well documented across biomes, little is known about such associations within a biome. This study investigated relationships between nine leaf traits that protect leaves against excessively high temperatures in 95 Australian arid zone species. Seven morphological traits were measured: leaf area, length, width, thickness, leaf mass per area, water content, and an inverse measure of pendulousness. Two spectral properties were measured: reflectance of visible and near-infrared radiation. Three key findings emerged: (1) leaf pendulousness increased with leaf size and leaf mass per area, the former relationship suggesting that pendulousness affords thermal protection when leaves are large; (2) leaf mass per area increased with thickness and decreased with water content, indicating alternative means for protection through increasing thermal mass; (3) spectral reflectance increased with leaf mass per area and thickness and decreased with water content. The consistent co-variation of thermal protective traits with leaf mass per area, a trait not usually associated with thermal protection, suggests that these traits fall along the leaf economics spectrum, with leaf longevity increasing through protection not only against structural damage but also against heat stress.


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