Detecting Growth Phase Shifts Based on Leaf Trait Variation of a Canopy Dipterocarp Tree Species (Parashorea chinensis)
Canopy species need to shift their adaptive strategy to acclimate to very different light environments as they grow from seedlings in the understory to adult trees in the canopy. However, research on how to quantitively detect ecological strategy shifts in plant ontogeny is scarce. In this study, we hypothesize that changes in light and tree height levels induce transitions in ecological strategies, and growth phases representing different adaptive strategies can be classified by leaf trait variation. We examined variations in leaf morphological and physiological traits across a vertical ambient light (represented by the transmittance of diffuse light, %TRANS) and tree height gradient in , a large canopy tree species in tropical seasonal rainforest in Southwestern China. Multivariate regression trees (MRTs) were used to detect the split points in light and height gradients and classify ontogenetic phases. Linear piecewise regression and quadratic regression were used to detect the transition point in leaf trait responses to environmental variation and explain the shifts in growth phases and adaptive strategies. Five growth phases of were identified based on MRT results: (i) the vulnerable phase, with tree height at less than 8.3 m; (ii) the suppressed phase, with tree height between 8.3 and 14.9 m; (iii) the growth release phase, with tree height between 14.9 and 24.3 m; (iv) the canopy phase, with tree height between 24.3 and 60.9 m; and (v) the emergent phase, with tree height above 60.9 m. The suppressed phase and canopy phase represent “stress-tolerant” and “competitive” strategies, respectively. Light conditions drive the shift from the “stress-tolerant” to the “competitive” strategy. These findings help us to better understand the regeneration mechanisms of canopy species in forests.