Global patterns of leaf mechanical properties

Yusuke Onoda*, Mark Westoby, Peter B. Adler, Amy M. F. Choong, Fiona J. Clissold, Johannes H. C. Cornelissen, Sandra Díaz, Nathaniel J. Dominy, Alison Elgart, Lucas Enrico, Paul V. A. Fine, Jerome J. Howard, Adel Jalili, Kaoru Kitajima, Hiroko Kurokawa, Clare McArthur, Peter W. Lucas, Lars Markesteijn, Natalia Pérez-Harguindeguy, Lourens PoorterLora Richards, Louis S. Santiago, Enio E. Sosinski, Sunshine A. Van Bael, David I. Warton, Ian J. Wright, S. Joseph Wright, Nayuta Yamashita

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    318 Citations (Scopus)


    Leaf mechanical properties strongly influence leaf lifespan, plant-herbivore interactions, litter decomposition and nutrient cycling, but global patterns in their interspecific variation and underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. We synthesize data across the three major measurement methods, permitting the first global analyses of leaf mechanics and associated traits, for 2819 species from 90 sites worldwide. Key measures of leaf mechanical resistance varied c. 500-800-fold among species. Contrary to a long-standing hypothesis, tropical leaves were not mechanically more resistant than temperate leaves. Leaf mechanical resistance was modestly related to rainfall and local light environment. By partitioning leaf mechanical resistance into three different components we discovered that toughness per density contributed a surprisingly large fraction to variation in mechanical resistance, larger than the fractions contributed by lamina thickness and tissue density. Higher toughness per density was associated with long leaf lifespan especially in forest understory. Seldom appreciated in the past, toughness per density is a key factor in leaf mechanical resistance, which itself influences plant-animal interactions and ecosystem functions across the globe.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)301-312
    Number of pages12
    JournalEcology Letters
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


    • biomechanics
    • fibre
    • global-trend
    • leaf traits
    • meta-analysis
    • toughness


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