Changes in defense traits of young leaves in subtropical forests succession
Plants develop diverse adaptive traits in changeable environments, yet whether plant defense traits change during succession remains unclear. In this study, we investigated the young leaf physical traits (i.e., upright orientation of leaves, trichomes, an enhanced cuticle, and a multilayered epidermis) and leaf color trait (i.e., red pigmentation) of dominant plants in three subtropical forests. These forests included a pioneer forest, a mixed coniferous-broadleaved forest, and a monsoon-evergreen broadleaved forest representing early, middle, and later successional stages, respectively. Our results show that the red color trait in young leaves is related to antiherbivory defense, and the percentage of species with red young leaves is higher in later than in early succession. Physical defense tends to be weaker for red young leaves than for green young leaves in early and middle successions. In addition, the number of defense traits of young leaves increases with succession. We speculate that young leaves in subtropical forests depend increasingly on multiple defense traits during succession because of the increased biotic stresses and environmental complexity in later succession.