Applying the economic concept of profitability to leaves

Rafael Villar*, Manuel Olmo, Pedro Atienza, Antonio J. Garzón, Ian J. Wright, Hendrik Poorter, Luis A. Hierro

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)
    13 Downloads (Pure)


    Economic principles can be extended to biological organisms as they optimize the use of resources, but their use in biology has been limited. We applied concepts from traditional economics to the main production unit of plants, the leaf. We quantified the profitability (profit/cost of investment) of leaves from seven biomes worldwide and compared those to the profitability of companies. Here we demonstrate for the first time key similarities and differences between leaf and human economics. First, there was a weak, but positive relationship between profitability and size, both for leaves and companies. Second, environment has a strong effect on profitability, with high values in leaves from biomes with short growth periods and, for companies associated with innovation. Third, shorter longevity of productive units was related to higher profitability. In summary, by comparing economic behaviours of plants and humans there is potential to develop new perspectives on plant ecological strategies and plant evolution.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number49
    Number of pages10
    JournalScientific Reports
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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