Convergence towards higher leaf mass per area in dry and nutrient-poor habitats has different consequences for leaf life span

Ian J. Wright, Mark Westoby, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

357 Scopus citations


1. Leaf life span (LL) and leaf mass per area (LMA) are fundamental traits in the carbon economy of plants, representing the investment required per unit leaf area (LMA) and the duration of the resulting benefit (LL). Species on dry and infertile soils converge towards higher LMA. It has been generally assumed that this allows species from low-resource habitats to achieve longer average leaf life spans, as LMA and LL are often correlated. 2. Leaf life span and LMA were measured for 75 perennial species from eastern Australia. Species were sampled from nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor sites within high and low rainfall regions. LL and LMA were positively correlated across species within each site. In addition, evolutionary divergences in LL and LMA were correlated within each site, indicating that cross-species relationships were not simply driven by differences between higher taxonomic groups. 3. Within a rainfall zone, LL-LMA combinations shifted as expected along common axes of variation such that species on poorer soils had higher LMA and longer LL, but significantly so only at high rainfall. 4. Low rainfall species were expected to have shorter LL at a given LMA or, equally, require higher LMA to achieve a given LL, i.e. shift to a parallel axis of variation, and this was observed on both nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor soils. On average, 30% higher LMA was seemingly required at dry sites to achieve a given LL. Thus, convergence towards higher LMA has different consequences for leaf life span in dry and nutrient-poor habitats. 5. The broad shifts in LL-LMA combinations between site types were also seen when comparing closely related species-pairs (phylogenetically independent contrasts) occurring on nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor soils (within each rainfall zone), and at high- and low-rainfall sites (at each soil nutrient level).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)534-543
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Adaptation
  • Leaf life span
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Sclerophylly
  • Specific leaf area


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