Plant water use theory should incorporate hypotheses about extreme environments, population ecology, and community ecology

New Phytol. 2023 Jun;238(6):2271-2283. doi: 10.1111/nph.18800. Epub 2023 Mar 6.


Plant water use theory has largely been developed within a plant-performance paradigm that conceptualizes water use in terms of value for carbon gain and that sits within a neoclassical economic framework. This theory works very well in many contexts but does not consider other values of water to plants that could impact their fitness. Here, we survey a range of alternative hypotheses for drivers of water use and stomatal regulation. These hypotheses are organized around relevance to extreme environments, population ecology, and community ecology. Most of these hypotheses are not yet empirically tested and some are controversial (e.g. requiring more agency and behavior than is commonly believed possible for plants). Some hypotheses, especially those focused around using water to avoid thermal stress, using water to promote reproduction instead of growth, and using water to hoard it, may be useful to incorporate into theory or to implement in Earth System Models.

Keywords: allocation; community ecology; life history; photosynthesis; stomatal conductance; stomatal regulation; trade-off; transpiration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Ecology
  • Extreme Environments
  • Photosynthesis*
  • Plant Leaves / physiology
  • Plant Stomata* / physiology
  • Plant Transpiration / physiology
  • Plants
  • Water / physiology


  • Water
  • Carbon Dioxide