Leaf chemical and spectral diversity in Australian tropical forests

Gregory P. Asner, Roberta E. Martin, Andrew J. Ford, Daniel J. Metcalee, Michael J. Liddell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Leaf chemical and spectral properties of 162 canopy species were measured at 11 tropical forest sites along a 6024 mm precipitation/yr and 8.7°C climate gradient in Queensland, Australia. We found that variations in foliar nitrogen, phosphorus, chlorophyll a and b, and carotenoid concentrations, as well as specific leaf area (SLA), were expressed more strongly among species within a site than along the entire climate gradient. Integrated chemical signatures consisting of all leaf properties did not aggregate well at the genus or family levels. Leaf chemical diversity was maximal in the lowland tropical forest sites with the highest temperatures and moderate precipitation levels. Cooler and wetter montane tropical forests contained species with measurably lower variation in their chemical signatures. Foliar optical properties measured from 400 to 2500 nm were also highly diverse at the species level, and were well correlated with an ensemble of leaf chemical properties and SLA (r 2 = 0.54-0.83). A probabilistic diversity model amplified the leaf chemical differences among species, revealing that lowland tropical forests maintain a chemical diversity per unit richness far greater than that of higher elevation forests in Australia. Modeled patterns in spectral diversity and species richness paralleled those of chemical diversity, demonstrating a linkage between the taxonomic and remotely sensed properties of tropical forest canopies. We conclude that species are the taxonomic unit causing chemical variance in Australian tropical forest canopies, and thus ecological and remote sensing studies should consider the role that species play in defining the functional properties of these forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-253
Number of pages18
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Australia
  • Biological diversity
  • Chemical diversity
  • Imaging spectroscopy
  • Leaf chemistry
  • Leaf optical properties
  • Lowland tropics
  • Queensland
  • Rainforest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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