Sensitivity of leaf size and shape to climate within Acer rubrum and Quercus kelloggii


Author for correspondence:
Dana L. Royer
Tel:+860 685 2836
Fax:+860 685 3651


  • • Variation in the size and shape (physiognomy) of leaves has long been correlated to climate, and paleobotanists have used these correlations to reconstruct paleo-climate. Most studies focus on site-level means of largely nonoverlapping species sets. The sensitivity of leaf shape to climate within species is poorly known, which limits our general understanding of leaf–climate relationships and the value of intraspecific patterns for paleoclimate reconstructions.
  • • The leaf physiognomy of two species whose native North American ranges span large climatic gradients (Acer rubrum and Quercus kelloggii) was quantified and correlated to mean annual temperature (MAT). Quercus kelloggii was sampled across a wide elevation range, but A. rubrum was sampled in strictly lowland areas.
  • • Within A. rubrum, leaf shape correlates with MAT in a manner that is largely consistent with previous site-level studies; leaves from cold climates are toothier and more highly dissected. By contrast, Q. kelloggii is largely insensitive to MAT; instead, windy conditions with ample plant-available water may explain the preponderance of small teeth at high elevation sites, independent of MAT.
  • • This study highlights the strong correspondence between leaf form and climate within some species, and demonstrates that intraspecific patterns may contribute useful information towards reconstructing paleoclimate.