The relationship between stem and branch wood specific gravity and the ability of each measure to predict leaf area

Nathan G. Swenson, Brian J. Enquist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


A few trait axes that represent differential biomass allocation may summarize plant life-history strategies. Here we examine one of these axes described by wood specific gravity. Wood specific gravity represents the location of a species on a continuum of the rate of growth vs. the likelihood of mechanical failure, ranging from rapid volumetric growth/increased probability of mechanical failure to slow volumetric growth/decreased probability of mechanical failure. Wood specific gravity has been quantified primarily using three separate methods: a section from terminal branch, a section from the main stem or from a trunk wood core. What is unclear is how comparable these methods are and whether one or the other is a better predictor of other important plant traits such as leaf area. Here we measured stem and branch wood specific gravities from individual trees and shrubs in a tropical rain forest, quantified their relationship and determined their ability to predict leaf area. Stem and branch measures were highly correlated with each measure having a weak correlation with leaf area in trees and strong correlation with leaf area in shrubs. These results indicate that various methodologies for measuring wood specific gravity are comparable, and thus less destructive methods than are currently used are available to determine values for this important trait.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)516-519
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Functional trait
  • Life-history trait
  • Puerto Rico
  • Trait correlations
  • Trait measurement
  • Tropical rain forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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