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Am J Bot. 2008 Nov;95(11):1366-74. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0800019.

Do bryophyte shoot systems function like vascular plant leaves or canopies? Functional trait relationships in Sphagnum mosses (Sphagnaceae).

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Department of Biological Sciences, Union College, Schenectady, New York 12308 USA.


Vascular plant leaf traits that influence photosynthetic function form the basis of mechanistic models of carbon exchange. Given their unique tissue organization, bryophytes may not express similar patterns. We investigated relationships among tissue, shoot, and canopy traits, and their associations with photosynthetic characteristics in 10 Sphagnum species. Trait relationships were organized around a primary dimension accounting for 43% of variation in 12 traits. There was no significant relationship between nitrogen content of shoot systems and maximum photosynthesis expressed on mass (A(mass)) or area (A(area)) bases due to nitrogen sequestration and storage within the canopy interior. This pattern differs from the distribution of nitrogen in vascular plant canopies. Thus, nitrogen and its relationship to carbon uptake in Sphagnum shoots does not conform to patterns of either vascular plant leaves or canopies. Species that concentrate biomass and nitrogen in the capitulum have enhanced rates of A(mass) and A(area). Consequently, A(area) was positively associated with N(area) of the capitulum only. Overall, water content and carotenoid concentration were the strongest predictors of both A(mass) and A(area) and these were expressed as inverse relationships. The relationships of plant traits in Sphagnum defines a principal trade-off between species that tolerate environmental stress and those that maximize carbon assimilation.

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