Leaf anatomy is associated with the type of growth form in Neotropical savanna plants
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Scleromorphic leaf structures are associated with plants growing under drought-prone conditions, high irradiances, and nutrient-poor soils. Sclerophylly can also be a valuable deterrent against herbivores. However, comprehensive studies of leaf anatomical traits encompassing different growth forms are lacking. The savannas of central Brazil (Cerrado) are characterized by high species diversity and a variety of growth forms. We performed a field study to characterize leaf anatomical traits and leaf mass per area (LMA) in 57 co-occurring Cerrado species of distinct plant families (located at different positions in the angiosperm phylogeny) and categorized according to the following growth forms: trees, palms, shrubs, subshrubs, vines, grasses and herbs. Plant growth form and leaf structure were interrelated. Four groups with distinct leaf anatomical syndromes were identified by NMDS analysis: grasses, palms, herbaceous (herbs, vines, and most subshrubs), and woody (trees and shrubs) plants. Trees and shrubs had scleromorphic dorsiventral leaves, with high tissue thickness and LMA. Herbaceous plants had thin, mesomorphic leaves. While most herbaceous plants had dorsiventral type of mesophyll, grasses and palms had homogenous mesophyll with sclerenchymatous bundle sheath extensions. Palms differed from grasses by having thicker leaves and sclerenchymatous hypodermis. In conclusion, Neotropical savannas cannot be exclusively described as scleromorphic vegetation.