Toward a general theory of plant carbon economics

Matiss Castorena, Mark E. Olson, Brian J. Enquist, Alex Fajardo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Plant life-history variation reflects different outcomes of natural selection given the strictures of resource allocation trade-offs. However, there is limited theory of selection predicting how leaves, stems, roots, and reproductive organs should evolve in concert across environments. Here, we synthesize two optimality theories to offer a general theory of plant carbon economics, named as Gmax theory, that shows how life-history variation is limited to phenotypes that have an approximately similar lifetime net carbon gain per body mass. In consequence, fast–slow economics spectra are the result of trait combinations obtaining similar lifetime net carbon gains from leaves and similar net carbon investment costs in stems, roots, and reproductive organs. Gmax theory also helps explain ecosystem and crop productivity and even helps guide carbon conservation strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)829-837
Number of pages9
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • allometry
  • leaf lifespan
  • life–history
  • metabolic scaling theory
  • plant carbon economics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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