Fundamental trade-offs generating the worldwide leaf economics spectrum

Ecology. 2006 Mar;87(3):535-41. doi: 10.1890/05-1051.


Recent work has identified a worldwide "economic" spectrum of correlated leaf traits that affects global patterns of nutrient cycling and primary productivity and that is used to calibrate vegetation-climate models. The correlation patterns are displayed by species from the arctic to the tropics and are largely independent of growth form or phylogeny. This generality suggests that unidentified fundamental constraints control the return of photosynthates on investments of nutrients and dry mass in leaves. Using novel graph theoretic methods and structural equation modeling, we show that the relationships among these variables can best be explained by assuming (1) a necessary trade-off between allocation to structural tissues versus liquid phase processes and (2) an evolutionary tradeoff between leaf photosynthetic rates, construction costs, and leaf longevity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomass*
  • Climate*
  • Ecosystem
  • Geography
  • Mathematics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Photosynthesis / physiology
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Plant Leaves / growth & development
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves / physiology*


  • Nitrogen