Leaf serration in seedlings of heteroblastic woody species enhance plasticity and performance in gaps but not in the understory.
Leaf heteroblasty refers to dramatic ontogenetic changes in leaf size and shape, in contrast to homoblasty that exhibits little change, between seedling and adult stages. This study examined whether the plasticity in leaf morphology of heteroblastic species would be an advantage for their survival and growth over homoblastic congeners to changes in light. Two congeneric pairs of homoblastic (Hoheria lyallii, Aristotelia serrata) and heteroblastic species (H. sexstylosa, A. fruticosa) were grown for 18 months in canopy gap and forest understory sites in a temperate rainforest in New Zealand. Heteroblastic species that initially had serrated leaves reduced leaf serration in the understory, but increased in the gaps. Heteroblastic species also produced thicker leaves and had higher stomatal pore area (density × aperture length), maximum photosynthetic rate, survival, and greater biomass allocation to shoots than homoblastic relatives in the gaps. Findings indicate that increased leaf serration in heteroblastic species is an advantage over homoblastic congeners in high light.