Leaf size of woody dicots predicts ecosystem primary productivity

Yaoqi Li, Peter B. Reich, Bernhard Schmid, Nawal Shrestha, Xiao Feng, Tong Lyu, Brian S. Maitner, Xiaoting Xu, Yichao Li, Dongting Zou, Zheng Hong Tan, Xiangyan Su, Zhiyao Tang, Qinghua Guo, Xiaojuan Feng, Brian J. Enquist, Zhiheng Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

33 Scopus citations


A key challenge in ecology is to understand the relationships between organismal traits and ecosystem processes. Here, with a novel dataset of leaf length and width for 10 480 woody dicots in China and 2374 in North America, we show that the variation in community mean leaf size is highly correlated with the variation in climate and ecosystem primary productivity, independent of plant life form. These relationships likely reflect how natural selection modifies leaf size across varying climates in conjunction with how climate influences canopy total leaf area. We find that the leaf size‒primary productivity functions based on the Chinese dataset can predict productivity in North America and vice-versa. In addition to advancing understanding of the relationship between a climate-driven trait and ecosystem functioning, our findings suggest that leaf size can also be a promising tool in palaeoecology for scaling from fossil leaves to palaeo-primary productivity of woody ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1003-1013
Number of pages11
JournalEcology letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Key Research Development Program of China (#2017YFA0605101; #2018YFA0606104), National Natural Science Foundation of China (#31988102, #31911530102) and Chinese Academy of Sciences‐Peking University Pioneer Collaboration Team. Y.L. thanks for the support from Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC). B.S. was supported by the University of Zurich Research Priority Program ‘Global Change and Biodiversity’. We thank Dr. Jingyun Fang, Dr. Sean Michaletz, Dr. Julie Messier, Dr. Jinzhuang Xue and Dr. Tao Su for constructive discussion, Yitong Yao and Yuhao Feng for their help with productivity data collection, Dr. Qiang Guo, Dr. Danilo Neves and Dr. Jehová Lourenço Junior for their help with R codes and Dr. Xavier Morin, Dr. David D. Ackerly and other referees for constructive comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by CNRS and John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Annual evapotranspiration
  • China
  • North America
  • community mean leaf size
  • large-scale eco-evolutionary patterns
  • leaf area index
  • palaeo-primary productivity
  • plant functional traits


Dive into the research topics of 'Leaf size of woody dicots predicts ecosystem primary productivity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this