Chin J Plan Ecolo ›› 2018, Vol. 42 ›› Issue (9): 917-925.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2018.0087

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

What is the optimal number of leaves when measuring leaf area of tree species in a forest community?

GAO Si-Han,GE Yu-Xi,ZHOU Li-Yi,ZHU Bao-Lin,GE Xing-Yu,LI Kai(),NI Jian()   

  1. College of Chemistry and Life Sciences, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, Zhejiang 321004, China
  • Received:2018-04-16 Revised:2018-06-09 Online:2018-06-11 Published:2018-09-20
  • Contact: Kai LI,Jian NI;
  • Supported by:
    Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China(41471049)


Aims Leaf size, as one of the easier measured plant morphological traits, reflects response and adaptation of plants to environment and indicates functions and processes of ecosystem. When measuring leaf size (the leaf area, LA) on the field, the common accepted practice considers that the number of leaves picked off is often 10-20. However, what is the optimal number of leaves remains unknown. In this study, we attempt to determine how many leaves should be investigated when the leaf size of a tree is measured.

Methods This study selected two dominant tree species (Schima superba, Ss and Liquidambar formosana, Lf) from a broadleaved evergreen and deciduous mixed forest in Jinhua Mountain of Zhejiang Province, eastern China. On the basis of sampling (>2 500 leaves for each tree) in five classes of the diameter of breast height (DBH) of tree species and at six directions for each individual, variations of LA in the two tree species are statistically analyzed. The optimal number of leaves, which can mostly represent the common leaf size feature, is further investigated.

Important findings Mean LAof the evergreen tree Ss was smaller than that of the deciduous tree Lf. The former was (41.60 ± 10.88) cm 2 (16.74-100.80 cm 2) and the latter was (57.65 ± 19.35) cm 2 (11.31-129.51 cm 2). LA of Lf was significantly related to the DBH, but LAof Ss was not. LA of both trees in the middle DBH class (15-20 cm) was not significantly different from their means. LA of two trees have no significant correlations with the sampling directions, but LA at the east, west and bottom had no significant relationships with their means. Considering the representativeness and practicality in the field sampling, the priority of selecting leaves can target the bottom direction of middle diameter mature trees. Random sampling analysis indicated that, the optimal number of leaves for tree LA measurement is species specific. The optimal number of leaves for Ss is 40 and for Lf is at least 170, respectively. Therefore, when measuring leaf area in a forest community, the optimal sampling number of leaves should not be limited to 10-20 leaves. Under sufficient labor, material and time, more leaves should be measured.

Key words: plant functional traits, leaf area, sampling number, sampling direction, tree age, evergreen and deciduous broadleaved mixed forest

Fig. 1

Relationship between leaf area and diameter at breast height of two tree species. A, B, Quartile map; C, D, Scatter plot; E, F, Confidence interval. Ss, Lf, mean values of all samples in all classes of diameter at breast height for Schima superba and Liquidambar formosana, respectively. D2-D6, D2-D6 classes of diameter at breast height. *, p < 0.05; **, p < 0.01."

Fig. 2

Relationship between leaf area and sampling direction of two tree species. A, B, Quartile map; C, D, Scatter plot; E, F, Confidence interval. *, p < 0.05; **, p < 0.01."

Fig. 3

Deviation of leaf area to diameter and sampling direction of two tree species. A, Diameter of Ss; B, Sampling direction of Ss; C, Diameter of Lf; D, Sampling direction of Lf. *, p < 0.05; **, p < 0.01. The vertical line indicates the mean value returning to zero."

Fig. 4

Deviation of mature and non-mature leaf areas to diameter at breast height (DBH) of two tree species. A, Schima superba (Ss). B, Liquidambar formosana (Lf). The horizontal line indicates the mean value returning to zero."

Fig. 5

Mean of random sampling, 95% confidence interval and significant test of leaf areas of two tree species. A, C, All leaf samples. B, D, Leaf samples of medium diameter class and bottom sampling direction. The black line of the leaf area plot indicates the mean value of random sampling, and the red line indicates the 95% confidence interval; the light blue block is the area of significant difference, indicating that the sample size of the right position of the block is the optimal sampling number of leaves. Ss, Schima superba; Lf, Liquidambar formosana."

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