Habitat-specific responses of leaf traits to soil water conditions in species from a novel alpine swamp meadow community

Honglin Li, Adrienne B. Nicotra, Danghui Xu, Guozhen Du*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    Species originally from alpine wetland and alpine meadow communities now coexist in a novel 'alpine swamp meadow' community as a consequence of wetland drying in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Considering the projected increase in the fluctuation of water supply from precipitation during the growing season in this area in the future, it is important to investigate the responses of the species that make up this new community to soil water availability. Using a transplant experimental design, we compared the response of leaf traits and growth to different water conditions for species grouped according to their original habitat of wetland or meadow. Twelve perennial herbaceous species, which form an alpine swamp meadow community in Maqu County in the eastern Tibetan Plateau, were used in this study and subjected to two water treatments, namely waterlogged and dry-down. Overall, significant differences in leaf production in response to soil water availability were found for these two groups, indicating strongly different effects of water availability on their growth. Furthermore, the meadow group had lower specific leaf area, leaf area and relative leaf water content, but thicker leaves than those of the wetland group, indicating significant habitat-specific differences in leaf morphology. Regarding physiological traits, the wetland group had significantly higher photosynthetic rates in inundated conditions, whereas for the meadow group the photosynthetic rate was greatest in cyclically dry conditions. Likewise, a similar pattern was observed for stomatal conductance; however, both groups achieved higher instantaneous water use efficiency during the dry-down treatment. The results of this study indicate that the composition of the alpine swamp meadow could be sensitive to changes in precipitation and might be changed substantially by future declines in water supply, as predicted by global climate change models for this region. This potential for compositional change of the community should be considered when management and conservation decisions are made.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalConservation Physiology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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