Leaf mechanical strength and photosynthetic capacity vary independently across 57 subtropical forest species with contrasting light requirements

Pengcheng He, Ian J. Wright, Shidan Zhu, Yusuke Onoda, Hui Liu, Ronghua Li, Xiaorong Liu, Lei Hua, Osazee O. Oyanoghafo, Qing Ye*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Leaf mechanical strength and photosynthetic capacity are critical plant life-history traits associated with tolerance and growth under various biotic and abiotic stresses. In principle, higher mechanical resistance achieved via higher relative allocation to cell walls should slow photosynthetic rates. However, interspecific relationships among these two leaf functions have not been reported. We measured leaf traits of 57 dominant woody species in a subtropical evergreen forest in China, focusing especially on photosynthetic rates, mechanical properties, and leaf lifespan (LLS). These species were assigned to two ecological strategy groups: shade-tolerant species and light-demanding species. On average, shade-tolerant species had longer LLS, higher leaf mechanical strength but lower photosynthetic rates, and exhibited longer LLS for a given leaf mass per area (LMA) or mechanical strength than light-demanding species. Depending on the traits and the basis of expression (per area or per mass), leaf mechanical resistance and photosynthetic capacity were either deemed unrelated, or only weakly negatively correlated. We found only weak support for the proposed trade-off between leaf biomechanics and photosynthesis among co-occurring woody species. This suggests there is considerable flexibility in these properties, and the observed relationships may result more so from trait coordination than any physically or physiologically enforced trade-off.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-618
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Early online date18 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019



  • functional traits
  • leaf lifespan (LLS)
  • leaf structure
  • light demanding
  • shade tolerant

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