Palaeo leaf economics reveal a shift in ecosystem function associated with the end-Triassic mass extinction event

W. K. Soh, I. J. Wright, K. L. Bacon, T. I. Lenz, M. Steinthorsdottir, A. C. Parnell, J. C. McElwain

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Abstract

Climate change is likely to have altered the ecological functioning of past ecosystems, and is likely to alter functioning in the future; however, the magnitude and direction of such changes are difficult to predict. Here we use a deep-Time case study to evaluate the impact of a well-constrained CO 2-induced global warming event on the ecological functioning of dominant plant communities. We use leaf mass per area (LMA), a widely used trait in modern plant ecology, to infer the palaeoecological strategy of fossil plant taxa. We show that palaeo-LMA can be inferred from fossil leaf cuticles based on a tight relationship between LMA and cuticle thickness observed among extant gymnosperms. Application of this new palaeo-LMA proxy to fossil gymnosperms from East Greenland reveals significant shifts in the dominant ecological strategies of vegetation found across the Triassic-Jurassic transition. Late Triassic forests, dominated by low-LMA taxa with inferred high transpiration rates and short leaf lifespans, were replaced in the Early Jurassic by forests dominated by high-LMA taxa that were likely to have slower metabolic rates. We suggest that extreme CO 2-induced global warming selected for taxa with high LMA associated with a stress-Tolerant strategy and that adaptive plasticity in leaf functional traits such as LMA contributed to post-warming ecological success.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17104
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalNature Plants
Volume3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Corrigendum can be found at Nature Plants volume 3, Article number: 17126 (2017).

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    Soh, W. K., Wright, I. J., Bacon, K. L., Lenz, T. I., Steinthorsdottir, M., Parnell, A. C., & McElwain, J. C. (2017). Palaeo leaf economics reveal a shift in ecosystem function associated with the end-Triassic mass extinction event. Nature Plants, 3, 1-8. [17104]. https://doi.org/10.1038/nplants.2017.104