"Diminishing returns" in the scaling of functional leaf traits across and within species groups

Karl J. Niklas*, Edward D. Cobb, Ülo Niinemets, Peter B. Reich, Arne Sellin, Bill Shipley, Ian J. Wright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Citations (Scopus)


More than 5,000 measurements from 1,943 plant species were used to explore the scaling relationships among the foliar surface area and the dry, water, and nitrogen/phosphorus mass of mature individual leaves. Although they differed statistically, the exponents for the relationships among these variables were numerically similar among six species groups (ferns, graminoids, forbs, shrubs, trees, and vines) and within 19 individual species. In general, at least one among the many scaling exponents was <1.0, such that increases in one or more features influencing foliar function (e.g., surface area or living leaf mass) failed to keep pace with increases in mature leaf size. Thus, a general set of scaling relationships exists that negatively affects increases in leaf size. We argue that this set reflects a fundamental property of all plants and helps to explain why annual growth fails to keep pace with increases in total body mass across species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8891-8896
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2007


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