Global Leaf Trait Relationships: Mass, Area, and the Leaf Economics Spectrum

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Science  28 Mar 2013:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1231574

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The leaf economics spectrum (LES) describes multivariate correlations that constrain leaf traits of plant species primarily to a single axis of variation if data are normalized by leaf mass. We show that these traits are approximately distributed proportional to leaf area instead of mass, as expected for a light- and CO2-collecting organ. Much of the structure in the mass-normalized LES results from normalizing area-proportional traits by mass. Mass normalization induces strong correlations among area-proportional traits because of large variation among species in leaf mass per area (LMA). The high LMA variance likely reflects its functional relationship with leaf life span. An LES that is independent of mass- or area-normalization and LMA reveals physiological relationships inconsistent with those in global vegetation models designed to address climate change.

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