Biomechanical and leaf-climate relationships: a comparison of ferns and seed plants.Am J Bot. 2014 Feb; 101(2):338-47.AJ
PREMISE OF THE STUDY
Relationships of leaf size and shape (physiognomy) with climate have been well characterized for woody non-monocotyledonous angiosperms (dicots), allowing the development of models for estimating paleoclimate from fossil leaves. More recently, petiole width of seed plants has been shown to scale closely with leaf mass. By measuring petiole width and leaf area in fossils, leaf mass per area (MA) can be estimated and an approximate leaf life span inferred. However, little is known about these relationships in ferns, a clade with a deep fossil record and with the potential to greatly expand the applicability of these proxies.
We measured the petiole width, MA, and leaf physiognomic characters of 179 fern species from 188 locations across six continents. We applied biomechanical models and assessed the relationship between leaf physiognomy and climate using correlational approaches.
The scaling relationship between area-normalized petiole width and MA differs between fern fronds and pinnae. The scaling relationship is best modeled as an end-loaded cantilevered beam, which is different from the best-fit biomechanical model for seed plants. Fern leaf physiognomy is not influenced by climatic conditions.
The cantilever beam model can be applied to fossil ferns. The lack of sensitivity of leaf physiognomy to climate in ferns argues against their use to reconstruct paleoclimate. Differences in climate sensitivity and biomechanical relationships between ferns and seed plants may be driven by differences in their hydraulic conductivity and/or their differing evolutionary histories of vein architecture and leaf morphology.