Previous experiments have shown that leaf specific mass (LSM: the ratio of leaf dry mass lo area) was lower and leaf water content (LWC) was higher in annuals than in perennials, differences that are more generally found between fast-and slow-growing species. Leaf transverse sections of seven annual-perennial pairs of grass species grown in the laboratory were analyzed to elucidate the anatomical bases of these differences.
Leaf thickness was similar in annuals and perennials, but leaf density was significantly higher in perennials. The proportion of the leaf volume occupied by mesophyll was higher in annuals, at the expense of the three other tissues (i.e. epidermis, sclerenchyma and vascular tissues). The cross-sectional area of mesophyll cells was higher in annuals than in perennials, but epidermal cell size was similar for both life-forms.
The ranges of LSM (23.1–49.5 g m −2) and LWC (0.70–0.86 g g−1) displayed by the 14 species were large enough to examine the general relationships between these two parameters and various anatomical characters. LSM was significantly correlated with leaf density, but not with leaf thickness. The anatomical character that best explained interspecific differences in LSM was the volume of cell walls per unit leaf area (approximated by the sum: sclerenchyma + vascular tissues (including its living component) + cell wall components of mesophyll and epidermis). LWC was found to depend on leaf density, and interspecific differences in this parameter were best explained by the proportion of mesophyll protoplast (i.e. proportion of mesophyll minus proportion of mesophyll occupied by cell walls) in the transverse sections.
The physiological and ecological implications of these findings are discussed in terms of a trade-off between leaf productivity and persistence.