Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2016, Vol. 26 ›› Issue (1): 15-26.doi: 10.1007/s11442-016-1251-x

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Latitudinal variation of leaf morphological traits from species to communities along a forest transect in eastern China

Ruili WANG1,2(), Guirui *YU1(), Nianpeng *HE1(), Qiufeng WANG1, Ning ZHAO3, Zhiwei XU4   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, CAS, Lanzhou 730000, China
    4. School of Geographical Sciences, Northeast Normal University, Changchun 130024, China
  • Received:2015-08-21 Accepted:2015-09-22 Online:2016-01-25 Published:2016-01-25
  • About author:

    Author: Wang Ruili (1988-), PhD, specialized in variation of plant functional traits. E-mail:

    *Corresponding author: Yu Guirui, Professor, E-mail: Nianpeng, Associate Professor, E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.31290221, No.31470506;Chinese Academy of Sciences Strategic Priority Research Program, No.XDA05050702;Program for Kezhen Distinguished Talents in Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, No.2013RC102


Comprehensive information on geographic patterns of leaf morphological traits in Chinese forests is still scarce. To explore the spatial patterns of leaf traits, we investigated leaf area (LA), leaf thickness (LT), specific leaf area (SLA), and leaf dry matter content (LDMC) across 847 species from nine typical forests along the North-South Transect of Eastern China (NSTEC) between July and August 2013, and also calculated the community weighted means (CWM) of leaf traits by determining the relative dominance of each species. Our results showed that, for all species, the means (± SE) of LA, LT, SLA, and LDMC were 2860.01 ± 135.37 mm2, 0.17 ± 0.003 mm, 20.15 ± 0.43 m2 kg-1, and 316.73 ± 3.81 mg g-1, respectively. Furthermore, latitudinal variation in leaf traits differed at the species and community levels. Generally, at the species level, SLA increased and LDMC decreased as latitude increased, whereas no clear latitudinal trends among LA or LT were found, which could be the result of shifts in plant functional types. When scaling up to the community level, more significant spatial patterns of leaf traits were observed (R2 = 0.46-0.71), driven by climate and soil N content. These results provided synthetic data compilation and analyses to better parameterize complex ecological models in the future, and emphasized the importance of scaling-up when studying the biogeographic patterns of plant traits.

Key words: latitudinal pattern, leaf morphological trait, community weighted mean, forest ecosystem, North- South Transect of Eastern China