Aim The productivity, functioning and biogeochemical cycles of terrestrial ecosystems are strongly affected by leaf element concentrations. Understanding the biological and ecological factors affecting leaf element concentrations is therefore important for modelling the productivity and nutrient fluxes of ecosystems and their responses to global change. The present study aimed to determine how leaf element concentrations are linked to taxonomy and the environment.
Methods The concentrations of 10 leaf elements of 702 terrestrial plant species from different biomes were extracted from publications. The links between environmental variables, taxonomy and leaf elements were analyzed using phylogenetically comparative methods and partial Mantel tests.
Results Taxonomy had stronger effects on leaf S and SiO2 than latitude, explaining 40.2–43.9% of total variation, whereas latitude had stronger effects on leaf N, P, K, Fe, Al, Mn, Na and Ca concentrations, explaining 19.5–52.1% of total variation. Leaf N, S, Al, Fe and Na concentrations were correlated with mean annual precipitation (MAP), while leaf N, P and Fe concentrations were correlated with mean annual temperature (MAT). Latitude, MAP and MAT were significantly correlated with the first axis of a principal components analysis (PCA). This first axis was associated with leaf elements involved in protein synthesis and photosynthesis. The other PCA axes, which were not correlated with MAT, latitude and MAP, were associated with leaf elements responsible for cell structure and enzymes.
Main conclusions Leaf element concentrations of terrestrial plants in China were correlated with climate, latitude and taxonomy. With the exception of S and SiO2, the environmental factors were more important in explaining leaf element variation than taxonomy. Therefore, changes in temperature and precipitation will directly affect the spatial patterns of leaf elements and thus the associated nutrient fluxes and ecosystem functioning.