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

Seedling growth rates and light requirements of subtropical rainforest trees associated with basaltic and rhyolitic soils

C. H. Lusk A D , K. M. Sendall B and P. J. Clarke C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand.

B Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, 1530 Cleveland Avenue N, St Paul, MN 55108, USA.

C Department of Botany, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: clusk@waikato.ac.nz

Australian Journal of Botany 62(1) 48-55 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT13262
Submitted: 27 October 2013  Accepted: 19 March 2014   Published: 23 April 2014

Abstract

A trade-off between shade tolerance and growth in open conditions is widely believed to underlie the dynamics of humid forests. Little is known about how the growth versus shade tolerance trade-off interacts with other major trade-offs associated with differential adaptation to major environmental factors besides light. We asked whether the growth versus shade tolerance trade-off differed between subtropical rainforest tree assemblages native to basaltic (fertile) and rhyolitic (infertile) soils in northern New South Wales, because of the allocational costs of adaptation to low nutrient availability. Seedling relative growth rates of six basalt specialists and five rhyolite specialists were measured in a glasshouse and the minimum light requirements of each species were quantified in the field by determining the 10th percentile of juvenile tree distributions in relation to understorey light availability. A similar range of light requirements was observed in the two assemblages, and although the two fastest growing species were basalt specialists, seedling growth rates did not differ significantly between the two substrates. The overall relationship between light requirements and growth rate was weak, and there was no compelling evidence that the slope or elevation of this relationship differed between the two assemblages. Growth rates were significantly correlated, overall, with specific leaf area, and marginally with leaf area ratio. The apparent similarity of the growth versus shade tolerance trade-off in the two suites of species could reflect effects of leaf nutrient content on respiration rates; basalt specialists tended to have a smaller root mass fraction, but this may have been offset by the effects of leaf nitrogen status on respiration rates, with higher respiration rates expected on fertile basaltic soils. However, the results might also partly reflect impairment of the field performance of two basalt specialists that were heavily attacked by natural enemies.

Additional keywords: forest dynamics, light compensation point for growth, relative growth rate, shade tolerance.


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