Leaf traits of dipterocarp species with contrasting distributions across a gradient of nutrient and light availability

Daisy H. Dent*, David F R P Burslem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Tree species composition at the landscape scale is often tightly associated with underlying soil type in tropical forests. Changes in soil type may have effects on forest structure that drive changes in both light and soil resource availability, since light availability in the understorey tends to be lower in more fertile sites. Plant functional traits may determine species distributions across gradients of light and soil resource availability. Aims: To test whether tree species with contrasting distributions exhibit leaf traits that reflect adaptation to the resources most limiting in their native environment. Methods: We measured foliar nutrient concentrations, stomatal density, leaf δ13C values, leaf mass per area, and leaf lifespan for saplings of nine common dipterocarp species at Sepilok Forest Reserve, Malaysian Borneo, possessing varying associations to soil resource habitats. Results: Species specialised in their adult distribution to nutrient-poor sandstone soils had traits indicative of a nutrient conservation strategy. Species specialised to more fertile alluvial soils had a wider spectrum of leaf N and P concentrations and LL, reflecting greater variance in strategies for resource acquisition and use among species in this habitat. Conclusions: Understorey light regimes co-vary with soil type, and both light and soil resource availability influence leaf trait adaptations that may contribute to species–habitat associations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-533
Number of pages13
JournalPlant Ecology & Diversity
Issue number5-6
Early online date23 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

We thank the Natural Environment Research Council (studentship to DHD) and the British Ecological Society for financial support. The Economic Planning Unit of the Federal Government of Malaysia kindly granted permission to conduct research in Malaysia. We also thank C. E. Timothy Paine, Francis Q. Brearley and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on a previous draft. We are grateful to O. Johnny, R. Yudot and B. Seligi for their contribution to field and laboratory work in Sepilok.


  • Foliar nutrient concentrations
  • leaf lifespan
  • leaf mass per area
  • shade-tolerance
  • south-east Asia


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