Towards a physical description of habitat: quantifying environmental adversity (abiotic stress) in temperate forest and woodland ecosystems

Authors

  • Brenton Ladd,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation (INRES), Soil Science and Soil Ecology, University of Bonn, D-53115 Bonn, Germany
    2. Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
      *Correspondence author. E-mail: brenton.ladd@uni-bonn.de
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  • Stephen P. Bonser,

    1. Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
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  • Pablo L. Peri,

    1. INTA EEA, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas (CONICET)-cc332 (9400) Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz, Argentina
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  • Joshua R. Larsen,

    1. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia
    2. ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), Institute for Environmental Research, Menai, NSW 2234, Australia
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  • Shawn W. Laffan,

    1. School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
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  • David A. Pepper,

    1. School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
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  • Dioni I. Cendón

    1. ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), Institute for Environmental Research, Menai, NSW 2234, Australia
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*Correspondence author. E-mail: brenton.ladd@uni-bonn.de

Summary

1. Our aim was to develop a quantitative proxy for environmental adversity (abiotic stress) in temperate Eucalyptus and Nothofagus forest and woodland ecosystems.

2. Samples and measurements were collected at 42 sites across a rainfall gradient in southern Australia, an elevation gradient in south-eastern Australia, and a longitudinal transect (temperature gradient) in Patagonia, Argentina.

3. We compared the ability of (a) abiotic variables (14 soil and 21 climatic variables) and (b) the stable carbon isotope (δ13C) values of soil organic matter (SOM), to predict variation in leaf area index (LAI; a forest productivity variable).

4. The δ13C of SOM (soil aggregates) explained more variation (57%) in LAI than multivariate statistical models that integrated information on many abiotic variables. W* (a climatic water balance model) was also a powerful predictor variable, explaining 37% of the variability in LAI.

5Synthesis. The stable carbon isotopic signature of soil aggregates is a powerful explanatory variable that may help us to quantify environmental adversity (abiotic stress) in temperate forest and woodland ecosystems.

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