When and where soil is important to modify the carbon and water economy of leaves

Jennifer Paillassa*, Ian J. Wright, I. Colin Prentice, Steeve Pepin, Nicholas G. Smith, Gilbert Ethier, Andrea C. Westerband, Laurent J. Lamarque, Han Wang, Will K. Cornwell, Vincent Maire

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Photosynthetic ‘least-cost’ theory posits that the optimal trait combination for a given environment is that where the summed costs of photosynthetic water and nutrient acquisition/use are minimised. The effects of soil water and nutrient availability on photosynthesis should be stronger as climate-related costs for both resources increase. 

    Two independent datasets of photosynthetic traits, Globamax (1509 species, 288 sites) and Glob13C (3645 species, 594 sites), were used to quantify biophysical and biochemical limitations of photosynthesis and the key variable Ci/Ca (CO2 drawdown during photosynthesis). Climate and soil variables were associated with both datasets. 

    The biochemical photosynthetic capacity was higher on alkaline soils. This effect was strongest at more arid sites, where water unit-costs are presumably higher. Higher values of soil silt and depth increased Ci/Ca, likely by providing greater H2O supply, alleviating biophysical photosynthetic limitation when soil water is scarce. 

    Climate is important in controlling the optimal balance of H2O and N costs for photosynthesis, but soil properties change these costs, both directly and indirectly. In total, soil properties modify the climate-demand driven predictions of Ci/Ca by up to 30% at a global scale.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)121-135
    Number of pages15
    JournalNew Phytologist
    Issue number1
    Early online date26 May 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


    • least-cost theory
    • nitrogen
    • photosynthesis
    • plant functional traits
    • soil fertility
    • soil pH
    • stomatal conductance


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