Nutritional differences and leaf acclimation of climbing plants and the associated vegetation in different types of an Andean montane rainforest

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Climbing plants are known to play an important role in tropical forest systems, but key features for their distribution are only partly understood. Investigation was carried out to find if climbers differ from self-supporting vegetation in their adjustment of leaf parameters over a wide variety of light regimes in different forest types along an altitudinal gradient. Relative photon flux density (PFDrel) was assessed above 75 pairs of strictly linked climbers and supporting vegetation on seven plots between 2,020 and 2,700 m a.s.l. along a mountain range in South-Ecuador up to the P√°ramo vegetation. Leaf samples from both growth forms were analyzed for leaf area (LA), specific leaf mass (LMA), mass and area-based carbon and nitrogen concentration (C, Carea, N, and Narea) and concentrations of P, K, Ca, Mg, Mn and Al. Leaf size of climbers was independent of general light condition, whereas the leaf size of the self-supporting vegetation increased in shade. LMA increased as expected with altitude and irradiance for both growth forms, but climbers generally built smaller leaves with lower LMA. N, P, and K concentrations were higher in the leaves of climbers than in their supporters. Relationships of LMA and Narea to the light conditions were more pronounced within the climbers than within their supporters. Slope for the regression between climber's Narea and LMA was twice as steep as for the supporter leaves. Al accumulators were only found within the self-supporting vegetation. The investigated traits indicate improved adjustment towards light supply within climbers compared to self-supporting vegetation. Thus climbing plants seem to have a higher potential trade off in resource-use efficiency regarding irradiance and nutrients.