Aim To investigate broad-scale patterns of plant leaf ash content and their possible causes in China.
Location Mainland China and Hainan island, with the geographic ranges for the data used from 18.7° N to 49.2° N and 76.0° E to 128.3° E.
Methods By analysing a data set of 2022 leaf samples, involving 704 species of terrestrial plants.
Results Leaf ash content increases with increasing latitude at an average rate of 2.7 mg ash g−1 dry weight per degree latitude from south to north of China. Plant functional group shows a more powerful influence on the spatial variation in leaf ash than soil pH and climate. Fast-growing species or those with leaves with a short life span have higher leaf ash than slow-growing species or those with a long leaf life span. Plants from alkaline soils have higher leaf ash than those from acid soils (39.5 mg g−1 increase in leaf ash content per unit increase of pH). Increasing precipitation significantly reduces leaf ash (with a mean rate of 4.8 mg g−1 for every 100 mm rainfall), whereas the effect of temperature appears to be nonlinear.
Main conclusions This study shows a significant latitudinal trend in leaf ash content in China. This geographic pattern is possibly shaped by the floral, edaphic and climatic factors that control the biogeochemical cycling of plant minerals. The results suggest that leaf ash content is a useful biogeographic indicator that can be used to explore the complex interactions between plants and the environment.