Global patterns of biomass allocation in woody species with different tolerances of shade and drought: evidence for multiple strategies

Giacomo Puglielli*, Lauri Laanisto, Hendrik Poorter, Ulo Niinemets

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The optimal partitioning theory predicts that plants of a given species acclimate to different environments by allocating a larger proportion of biomass to the organs acquiring the most limiting resource. Are similar patterns found across species adapted to environments with contrasting levels of abiotic stress? 

We tested the optimal partitioning theory by analysing how fractional biomass allocation to leaves, stems and roots differed between woody species with different tolerances of shade and drought in plants of different age and size (seedlings to mature trees) using a global dataset including 604 species. 

No overarching biomass allocation patterns at different tolerance values across species were found. Biomass allocation varied among functional types as a result of phenological (deciduous vs evergreen broad-leaved species) and broad phylogenetical (angiosperms vs gymnosperms) differences. Furthermore, the direction of biomass allocation responses between tolerant and intolerant species was often opposite to that predicted by the optimal partitioning theory. 

We conclude that plant functional type is the major determinant of biomass allocation in woody species. We propose that interactions between plant functional type, ontogeny and species-specific stress tolerance adaptations allow woody species with different shade and drought tolerances to display multiple biomass partitioning strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-322
Number of pages15
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • abiotic stress
  • biomass allocation
  • drought tolerance
  • optimal partitioning theory
  • plant functional types
  • shade tolerance
  • woody species

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