• Leaf physiognomy;
  • leaf shape;
  • phylogeny;
  • soil phosphorus


  • 1
    Ecologists have long recognized that plants occurring in areas of low rainfall or soil nutrients tend to have smaller leaves than those in more favourable regions.
  • 2
    Working with a large data set (690 species at 47 sites spread widely through south-east Australia) for which this reduction has been described previously, we investigated the morphology of leaf size reduction, asking whether any patterns observed were consistent across evolutionary lineages or between environmental gradients.
  • 3
    Leaf length, width and surface areas were measured; leaf traits such as pubescence or lobing were also scored qualitatively. There was no correlation between soil phosphorus and rainfall across sites. Further, there was no evidence that pubescence, lobing or other traits assessed served as alternatives to reduction of leaf size at the low ends of either environmental gradient.
  • 4
    Leaf size reduction occurred through many combinations of change in leaf width and length, even within lineages. Thus consistent patterns in the method of leaf size reduction were not found, although broad similarities between rainfall and soil P gradients were apparent.