Postprint version. Published in Oecologia, Volume 130, Issue 3, February 1, 2002, pages 449-457. Copyright © 2002 Springer. The original publication is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s004420100805.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Charles A. Knight was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
We examined variation in leaf size and specific leaf area (SLA) in relation to the distribution of 22 chaparral shrub species on small-scale gradients of aspect and elevation. Potential incident solar radiation (insolation) was estimated from a geographic information system to quantify microclimate affinities of these species across north- and south-facing slopes. At the community level, leaf size and SLA both declined with increasing insolation, based on average trait values for the species found in plots along the gradient. However, leaf size and SLA were not significantly correlated across species, suggesting that these two traits are decoupled and associated with different aspects of performance along this environmental gradient. For individual species, SLA was negatively correlated with species distributions along the insolation gradient, and was significantly lower in evergreen versus deciduous species. Leaf size exhibited a negative but non-significant trend in relation to insolation distribution of individual species. At the community level, variance in leaf size increased with increasing insolation. For individual species, there was a greater range of leaf size on south-facing slopes, while there was an absence of small-leaved species on north-facing slopes. These results demonstrate that analyses of plant functional traits along environmental gradients based on community level averages may obscure important aspects of trait variation and distribution among the constituent species.