Intra- and inter-community variation in leaf water repellency along a 4000 m elevation transect in the Peruvian Andes
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:55 PM
Leaf water repellency is a measure of the hydrophobicity, or wettability, of leaf surfaces. At the scale of the plant, leaf water repellency can affect gas exchange, nutrient exchange, and pathogen growth. At the scale of the ecosystem, it can affect canopy water storage, throughfall, and evaporation. To date, very few studies have measured intra- and inter- community variation in leaf water repellency of tropical forest ecosystems. In the context of a broad survey of plant functional traits, we measured leaf water repellency in nine forest plots occurring across a 4000 m elevation gradient in the eastern Andes of Peru. Observed angles of incidence (63 ± 13°) indicate high leaf wettability, with no significant difference between sun and shade leaves. In contrast with previous research along elevation gradients, we find no strong evidence for variation across sites, but rather find high variation within a given site. Finally, we find that leaf water repellency may be predicted using sunlit leaf spectra with a low RMSE (<25% of the mean), indicating that future research on leaf water repellency could be carried out using high resolution hyperspectral remote sensing. As the climate of tropical ecosystems changes, the resultant changes in leaf water repellency will impact plants, communities and ecosystems. Our results inform our understanding of where and to what extent these impacts are most likely to occur.