Leaves of lianas and self-supporting plants differ in mass per unit area and in nitrogen content
The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that the reduction in supporting tissues in climbers compared to self-supporting plants is also true for their leaves, and that climbers generally require higher leaf nitrogen than self-supporting plants to accomplish fast growth. This hypothesis was tested using paired samples of both growth forms with assessment of leaf area index above the sampled plants (LAl_a) in a tropical rain forest in Gabon. The sampling protocol ensured that within a highly fluctuating low canopy environment, the growth conditions were identical for each pair sampled. The results confirmed the hypothesis. Lianas had significantly lower leaf mass per unit leaf area (LMA) than their supporters. Liana leaves also contained significantly more nitrogen than host tree leaves. The differences in nitrogen concentration between liana and tree leaves reversed for the most shaded sites, when nitrogen was expression on a leaf area base (N_(area)). Significant regression between leaf nitrogen and LAl_a was found for the climbers on the shaded sites but not for their supporters. This indicated better acclimation of climbers to prevailing light conditions. Better nitrogen allocation at low LMA, together with lower carboncosts for building supporting tissues, makes lianas highly competitive, especially where high nitrogen availability is assured.