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Plant neighbourhood diversity effects on leaf traits: a meta-analysis

Plant neighbourhood diversity effects on leaf traits: a meta-analysis

Felix, Juri A., Stevenson, Philip C. ORCID: 0000-0002-0736-3619 and Koricheva, Julia (2023) Plant neighbourhood diversity effects on leaf traits: a meta-analysis. Functional Ecology, 37 (12). pp. 3150-3163. ISSN 0269-8463 (Print), 1365-2435 (Online) (doi:

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1. Leaf traits often vary with plant neighbourhood composition, which in turn may mediate plant susceptibility to herbivory. However, it is unknown whether there are any common patterns of change in leaf trait expression in response to neighbourhood diversity, and whether these responses confer increased resistance or susceptibility to herbivores.
2. We used meta-analysis to combine data from 43 studies which examined the influence of neighbourhood diversity on eight physical and chemical leaf traits which could affect herbivory. All leaf traits apart from leaf thickness were highly plastic and exhibited significant differences between plant monocultures and species mixtures, but the direction of effect was variable. Leaf toughness was the only trait which displayed a significant decrease with plant diversity, whereas specific leaf area (SLA) and leaf nitrogen were both marginally increased in species mixtures.
3. The magnitude and direction of leaf trait responses to neighbourhood diversity were independent of plant density and phylogenetic diversity, but changes in SLA correlated positively with plant species richness. SLA was also significantly increased in experimental studies, but not in observational studies, while neighbourhoods containing nitrogen-fixers were associated with increased leaf nitrogen and reduced phenolics. When studies on the over-represented species Betula pendula were removed from the analysis, the effect of neighbourhood diversity on leaf toughness became non-significant, but phenolics were significantly reduced in diverse neighbourhoods composed of mature trees, and marginally reduced in species mixtures across all studies.
4. Increases in plant neighbourhood diversity are often associated with reductions of herbivory, although in some cases the reverse occurs, and plants growing in species mixtures are found to suffer greater herbivory than those in monocultures. This study offers a potential explanation for the latter phenomenon, as our results show that leaf trait expression is highly plastic in response to neighbourhood diversity, and in certain cases could lead to increased leaf quality, which in turn could promote greater rates of herbivory.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: associational effects; BEF, defense; insect herbivore; leaf traits; meta-analysis; neighbourhood diversity
Subjects: Q Science > QK Botany
S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
S Agriculture > SB Plant culture
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Agriculture, Health & Environment Department
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Chemical Ecology Research Group
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2023 12:27

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