Why are evergreen leaves so contrary about shade?

Christopher H. Lusk*, Peter B. Reich, Rebecca A. Montgomery, David D. Ackerly, Jeannine Cavender-Bares

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Citations (Scopus)


Leaf mass per area (LMA) is one of the most widely measured of all plant functional traits. In deciduous forests, there is similarity between plastic and evolutionary responses of LMA to light gradients. In evergreens, however, LMA is lower in shaded than sunlit individuals of the same species, whereas shade-tolerant evergreens have higher LMA than light-demanders grown under the same conditions. We suggest that this pattern of 'counter-gradient variation' results from some combination of (i) close evolutionary coordination of LMA with leaf lifespan, (ii) selection for different leaf constitutions (relative investment in cell walls versus cell contents) in sun and shade environments and/or (iii) constraints on plasticity as a result of genetic correlations between phenotypes expressed in sun and shade.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-303
Number of pages5
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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