Leaf economics and plant hydraulics drive leaf: wood area ratios

Maurizio Mencuccini*, Teresa Rosas, Lucy Rowland, Brendan Choat, Hans Cornelissen, Steven Jansen, Koen Kramer, Andrei Lapenis, Stefano Manzoni, Ülo Niinemets, Peter Reich, Franziska Schrodt, Nadia Soudzilovskaia, Ian J. Wright, Jordi Martínez-Vilalta

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    76 Citations (Scopus)


    •Biomass and area ratios between leaves, stems and roots regulate many physiological and ecological processes. The Huber value Hv (sapwood area/leaf area ratio) is central to plant water balance and drought responses. However, its coordination with key plant functional traits is poorly understood, and prevents developing trait-based prediction models. 

    •Based on theoretical arguments, we hypothesise that global patterns in Hv of terminal woody branches can be predicted from variables related to plant trait spectra, that is plant hydraulics and size and leaf economics. 

    •Using a global compilation of 1135 species-averaged Hv, we show that Hv varies over three orders of magnitude. Higher Hv are seen in short small-leaved low-specific leaf area (SLA) shrubs with low Ks in arid relative to tall large-leaved high-SLA trees with high Ks in moist environments. All traits depend on climate but climatic correlations are stronger for explanatory traits than Hv. Negative isometry is found between Hv and Ks, suggesting a compensation to maintain hydraulic supply to leaves across species. 

    •This work identifies the major global drivers of branch sapwood/leaf area ratios. Our approach based on widely available traits facilitates the development of accurate models of above-ground biomass allocation and helps predict vegetation responses to drought.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1544-1556
    Number of pages13
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number4
    Early online date19 Jun 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


    • biomechanics
    • Corner's rules
    • Huber value
    • leaf economics spectrum
    • leaf size
    • trait trade-off
    • wood density
    • xylem hydraulics


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