The tropical Andes are one of the most biodiverse hotspots on earth. Though the nutrient-limited systems are affected by anthropogenic nutrient inputs due to industry and agriculture. The NuMEx (Nutrient Manipulation Experiment) project, which was set up in 2008 and is located in southern Ecuador and aims to find out about the consequences of nutrient pollution to herbivore and plant interaction. Therefore experimental plots at three different levels of elevation were fertilised with nitrogen and phosphorus. In this study, fresh leaf samples were collected in May 2018. Plant parameters like leaf area, specific leaf area, leaf toughness and nitrogen content were analysed. Herbivory was examined trough leaf area loss measurements. Changes in these parameters along an elevation gradient from 1000 to 3000 m were analysed. Moreover, the study focussed on the influence of the nutrient addition to the sensible tropical system.
A significant influence of the elevation on most of the leaf morphology parameters was shown. Specific leaf area and leaf nitrogen content showed a significant decrease along the elevation gradient, while the leaves became tougher. The mean leaf area and the leaf area loss gained no significant results; however, the leaf area tended to be smaller within rising elevation. The leaf area loss was highest at 3000 m of elevation. All elevation outcomes, except for the leaf area loss, could be explained by the harsher climatic conditions at higher elevation levels and the relationship between nitrogen content and the leaf traits.
Nutrient addition results on the leaf traits were less clear. Almost no significant influences could be measured. The leaf characteristics showed mostly a clear trend though, except for the leaf area. The leaf area partially increased (mostly under mixed nitrogen and phosphorus addition) and partially decreased (nitrogen treatment) due to the nutrient addition. Specific leaf area, leaf nitrogen content and leaf area loss mostly increased due to the nutrient addition, especially nitrogen and the mixed nitrogen and phosphorus sample contributed to the increase. Leaf toughness whereas decreased. The highest decrease was caused at the plots treated with the nitrogen and phosphorus mix. The results make clear that a high leaf nitrogen content correlates with soft leaves and a high specific leaf area. An analysis of the leaf area loss and the leaf nitrogen content yielded that also these traits are correlated.