The river valleys in Southwest China are characterized by a dry–hot climate and relatively rich soils, and host valley-type savannas that are dominated by deciduous species. However, little is known about the ecological adaptations of Chinese savanna plants to the local environments. We hypothesize that Chinese savanna species mainly possess a drought-avoiding strategy by having a deciduous leaf habit and have productive leaf traits. To test this hypothesis, we measured 26 anatomical, morphological, physiological, and chemical traits for 33 woody species from a valley savanna in Southwest China and compared them with the literature data of other dry and wet tropical tree species and a global dataset. We found that Chinese savanna species showed drought avoidance adaptations and exhibited productive leaf traits, such as thin and dense leaves with high ratio of palisade to spongy mesophyll, leaf nutrient concentrations and photosynthetic capacity. Correlations of photosynthetic capacity with N, P, and stomatal conductance across Chinese savanna species were consistent with global patterns reported for seed plants. However, the Chinese savanna species had consistently greater carbon gain at a given specific leaf area, N, P, and stomatal conductance, suggesting higher nutrient- and intrinsic water use efficiencies. These results suggest that paradoxically, Chinese savanna species are adapted to the stressful dry–hot valley habitat by having productive leaves.
- nitrogen-use efficiency
- dry mass