Leaf traits are good predictors of plant performance across 53 rain forest species

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We compared the leaf traits and plant performance of 53 co-occurring tree species in a semi-evergreen tropical moist forest community. The species differed in all leaf traits analyzed: leaf life span varied 11-fold among species, specific leaf area 5-fold, mass-based nitrogen 3-fold, mass-based assimilation rate 13-fold, mass-based respiration rate 15-fold, stomatal conductance 8-fold, and photosynthetic water use efficiency 4-fold. Photosynthetic traits were strongly coordinated, and specific leaf area predicted mass-based rates of assimilation and respiration; leaf life span predicted many other leaf characteristics. Leaf traits were closely associated with growth, survival, and light requirement of the species. Leaf investment strategies varied on a continuum trading off short-term carbon gain against long-term leaf persistence that, in turn, is linked to variation in whole-plant growth and survival. Leaf traits were good predictors of plant performance, both in gaps and in the forest understory. High growth in gaps is promoted by cheap, short-lived, and physiologically active leaves. High survival in the forest understory is enhanced by the formation of long-lived well protected leaves that reduce biomass loss by herbivory, mechanical disturbance, or leaf turnover. Leaf traits underlay this growth¿survival trade-off; species with short-lived, physiologically active leaves have high growth but low survival. This continuum in leaf traits, through its effect on plant performance, in turn gives rise to a continuum in species' light requirements
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1733-1743
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • relative growth-rate
  • life-span
  • successional status
  • shade tolerance
  • tropical trees
  • woody-plants
  • low-nutrient
  • trade-offs
  • light
  • area

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