Graduate Program

Natural Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Scott J. Meiners


Leaf nutrient concentrations are an example of a functional trait, a trait that can be used to understand community dynamics by observing how plants interact with their environment. I explored how leaf nutrient concentrations were affected over successional time by environmental changes. The majority of prior research on functional traits focuses on either woody or herbaceous species, but not both life forms simultaneously. To address this, I also explored the successional changes to leaf nutrient concentrations, separating the plant community into woody and herbaceous species.

Healthy, mature leaves were taken from 122 taxa of woody and herbaceous species in a mesic successional community located in New Jersey, USA. Leaf nutrient concentrations of C, N, P, K, Ca, and Mg were determined for the community using abundance-weight trait values. All of the nutrients except leaf Mg produced temporal patterns that became stable later in succession, but had different values between life forms. For example, leaf K concentrations remained fairly constant throughout succession, but were always higher in herbaceous species. The exception to this pattern was that the concentration of leaf N in herbaceous species increased later in succession rather than remaining stable.

My study identified that a strong pattern in leaf nutrient concentrations exists over succession, mostly driven by changes in life form. However, the overall community approach masks trajectories of individual life forms within the community, which indicates that succession is acting differently on the leaf nutrients of herbaceous and woody species.