Variations of leaf longevity in tropical moist forests predicted by a trait-driven carbon optimality model

Xiangtao Xu, David Medvigy, Stuart Joseph Wright, Kaoru Kitajima, Jin Wu, Loren P. Albert, Giordane A. Martins, Scott R. Saleska, Stephen W. Pacala

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Leaf longevity (LL) varies more than 20-fold in tropical evergreen forests, but it remains unclear how to capture these variations using predictive models. Current theories of LL that are based on carbon optimisation principles are challenging to quantitatively assess because of uncertainty across species in the ‘ageing rate:’ the rate at which leaf photosynthetic capacity declines with age. Here, we present a meta-analysis of 49 species across temperate and tropical biomes, demonstrating that the ageing rate of photosynthetic capacity is positively correlated with the mass-based carboxylation rate of mature leaves. We assess an improved trait-driven carbon optimality model with in situLL data for 105 species in two Panamanian forests. We show that our model explains over 40% of the cross-species variation in LL under contrasting light environment. Collectively, our results reveal how variation in LL emerges from carbon optimisation constrained by both leaf structural traits and abiotic environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1097-1106
Number of pages10
JournalEcology letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Carbon optimisation
  • functional trait
  • leaf ageing
  • leaf economics spectrum
  • leaf longevity
  • modelling
  • photosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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