Leaf economics fundamentals explained by optimality principles

Han Wang*, I. Colin Prentice, Ian J. Wright, David I. Warton, Shengchao Qiao, Xiangtao Xu, Jian Zhou, Kihachiro Kikuzawa, Nils Chrisitan Stenseth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


The life span of leaves increases with their mass per unit area (LMA). It is unclear why. Here, we show that this empirical generalization (the foundation of the worldwide leaf economics spectrum) is a consequence of natural selection, maximizing average net carbon gain over the leaf life cycle. Analyzing two large leaf trait datasets, we show that evergreen and deciduous species with diverse construction costs (assumed proportional to LMA) are selected by light, temperature, and growing-season length in different, but predictable, ways. We quantitatively explain the observed divergent latitudinal trends in evergreen and deciduous LMA and show how local distributions of LMA arise by selection under different environmental conditions acting on the species pool. These results illustrate how optimality principles can underpin a new theory for plant geography and terrestrial carbon dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereadd5667
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalScience Advances
Issue number3
Early online date18 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. 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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