• Leaf defences;
  • coastal forests;
  • leaf nitrogen;
  • leaf mass per area;
  • anthocyanins;
  • leaf strength;
  • penetrometer

Abstract: Young leaves are preferential targets for herbivores, and plants have developed different strategies to protect them. This study aimed to evaluate different leaf attributes of presumed relevance in protection against herbivory in four woody species (Erythroxylum argentinum, Lithrea brasiliensis, Myrciaria cuspidata, and Myrsine umbellata), growing in a dry restinga woodland in southern Brazil. Evaluation of leaf parameters was made through single-point sampling of leaves (leaf mass per area and leaf contents of nitrogen, carbon, and pigments) at three developmental stages and through time-course sampling of expanding leaves (area and strength). Leaves of M. umbellata showed the highest leaf mass per area (LMA), the largest area, and the longest expansion period. On the other extreme, Myrc. cuspidata had the smallest LMA and leaf size, and the shortest expansion period. Similarly to L. brasiliensis, it displayed red young leaves. None of the species showed delayed-greening, which might be related to the high-irradiance growth conditions. Nitrogen contents reduced with leaf maturity and reached the highest values in the young leaves of E. argentinum and Myrc. cuspidata and the lowest in M. umbellata. Each species seems to present a different set of protective attributes during leaf expansion. Myrciaria cuspidata appears to rely mostly on chemical defences to protect its soft leaves, and anthocyanins might play this role at leaf youth, while M. umbellata seems to invest more on mechanical defences, even at early stages of leaf growth, as well as on a low allocation of nitrogen to the leaves. The other species display intermediate characteristics.