Sources of within- and between-stand variability in specific leaf area of three ecologically distinct conifer species
Specific leaf area (SLA) is an important ecophysiological variable, but its variability within and between stands has rarely been simultaneously examined and modeled across multiple species. Extensive datasets on SLA in coastal Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii (Mirb.) Franco), hybrid spruce (Picea engelmannii Parry $times $ Picea glauca (Moench) Voss $times $ Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr.), and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex P. & C. Laws.) were used to estimate variability of SLA within a canopy and its relationship to tree- and stand-level covariates, and to predict SLA at various locations in tree crowns. Also, in the case of hybrid spruce, variation in SLA due to different relative horizontal lengths from the bole was examined. In all species, SLA systematically increased from tree tip to crown base and decreased with foliage age class. Cardinal direction did not have a highly significant influence in either Douglas-fir or hybrid spruce, but SLA did significantly decrease from branch tip to bole in hybrid spruce. Tree- and stand-level (e.g. density, site index) factors had relatively little influence on SLA, but stand age did have a significant positive influence. For ponderosa pine, a significant relationship between canopy mean current-year SLA and carbon isotope discrimination was also found, suggesting the importance of water stress in this species. An equation was fitted to estimate SLA at various points in the canopy for each species and foliage age class using absolute height in the canopy, relative vertical height in the tree, and stand age.