Plant ecological strategies: Some leading dimensions of variation between species

Mark Westoby*, Daniel S. Falster, Angela T. Moles, Peter A. Vesk, Ian J. Wright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2158 Citations (Scopus)


An important aim of plant ecology is to identify leading dimensions of ecological variation among species and to understand the basis for them. Dimensions that can readily be measured would be especially useful, because they might offer a path towards improved worldwide synthesis across the thousands of field experiments and ecophysiological studies that use just a few species each. Four dimensions are reviewed here. The leaf mass per area-leaf lifespan (LMA-LL) dimension expresses slow turnover of plant parts (at high LMA and long LL), long nutrient residence times, and slow response to favorable growth conditions. The seed mass-seed output (SM-SO) dimension is an important predictor of dispersal to establishment opportunities (seed output) and of establishment success in the face of hazards (seed mass). The LMA-LL and SM-SO dimensions are each underpinned by a single, comprehensible tradeoff, and their consequences are fairly well understood. The leaf size-twig size (LS-TS) spectrum has obvious consequences for the texture of canopies, but the costs and benefits of large versus small leaf and twig size are poorly understood. The height dimension has universally been seen as ecologically important and included in ecological strategy schemes. Nevertheless, height includes several tradeoffs and adaptive elements, which ideally should be treated separately. Each of these four dimensions varies at the scales of climate zones and of site types within landscapes. This variation can be interpreted as adaptation to the physical environment. Each dimension also varies widely among coexisting species. Most likely this within-site variation arises because the ecological opportunities for each species depend strongly on which other species are present, in other words, because the set of species at a site is a stable mixture of strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-159
Number of pages35
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology and Systematics
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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