5 years ago

Trait shifts associated with the subshrub life-history strategy in a tropical savanna

W. A. Hoffmann, A. B. Giroldo, A. Scariot


Over the past 10 million years, tropical savanna environments have selected for small growth forms within woody plant lineages. The result has been the evolution of subshrubs (geoxyles), presumably as an adaptation to frequent fire. To evaluate the traits associated with the shift from tree to subshrub growth forms, we compared seed biomass, germination, survival, resprouting, biomass allocation, and photosynthesis between congeneric trees and subshrubs, and quantified phylogenetic conservatism. Despite large differences in adult morphology between trees and subshrub species, the differences are modest in seedlings, and most of the variation in traits was explained by genus, indicating considerable phylogenic conservatism. Regardless, tree seedlings invested more heavily in aboveground growth, compared to subshrubs, which is consistent with the adult strategy of savanna trees, which depend on a large resistant-fire stem. Subshrub seedlings also invest in greater non-structural carbohydrate reserves, likely as an adaptation to the high fire frequencies typical of tropical savannas. The modest differences as seedlings suggest that selective pressures during early development may not have contributed substantially to the evolution of the subshrub growth form and that the distinct allocation and life history must arise later in life. This is consistent with the interpretation that the subshrub growth form arose as a life-history strategy in which maturity is reached at a small stem size, allowing them to reproduce despite repeated fire-induced topkill. The convergent evolution of subshrubs within multiple tree lineages reaffirms the importance of fire in the origin and diversification of the flora of mesic savannas.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00442-017-3930-4

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-017-3930-4

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