Background and Aims Plant relative growth rate (RGR) depends on biomass allocation to leaves (leaf mass fraction, LMF), efficient construction of leaf surface area (specific leaf area, SLA) and biomass growth per unit leaf area (net assimilation rate, NAR). Functional groups of species may differ in any of these traits, potentially resulting in (1) differences in mean RGR of groups, and (2) differences in the traits driving RGR variation within each group. We tested these predictions by comparing deciduous and evergreen savanna trees. Methods RGR, changes to biomass allocation and leaf morphology, and root non-structural carbohydrate reserves were evaluated for juveniles of 51 savanna species (34 deciduous, 17 evergreen) grown in a common garden experiment. It was anticipated that drivers ofRGRwould differ between leaf habit groups because deciduous species have to allocate carbohydrates to storage in roots to be able to flush leaves again, which directly compromises their LMF, whereas evergreen species are not subject to this constraint. Key Results Evergreen species had greaterLMFandRGRthan deciduous species. Amongdeciduous speciesLMF explained 27% of RGR variation (SLA 34% and NAR 29 %), whereas among evergreen species LMF explained between 2 and 17% of RGR variation (SLA 32–35% and NAR 38–62 %). RGR and LMF were (negatively) related to carbohydrate storage only among deciduous species. Conclusions Trade-offs between investment in carbohydrate reserves and growth occurred only among deciduous species, leading to differences in relative contribution made by the underlying components of RGR between the leaf habit groups. The results suggest that differences in drivers ofRGRoccur among savanna species because these have different selected strategies for coping with fire disturbance in savannas. It is expected that variation in the drivers of RGR will be found in other functional types that respond differently to particular disturbances.
- phylogenetically independent contrasts
- adaptive significance
- carbohydrate storage
- shade tolerance
- seedling shade