• leaf mass per area;
  • leaf lifespan (LL);
  • nitrogen use;
  • sclerophylly;
  • toughness;
  • water use


  • • 
    Across species, leaf lifespan (LL) tends to be correlated with leaf mass per area (LMA). Previously we found that Australian perennial species from low-rainfall sites had c . 40% shorter LL at a given LMA than high-rainfall species.
  • • 
    Here we relate indices of leaf strength (work to shear, W shear , and tissue toughness) to LL and LMA across the same suite of species. W shear is the work required to cut a leaf with a blade; W shear divided by leaf thickness gives tissue toughness.
  • • 
    Low- and high-rainfall species did not differ in their LL at a given W shear , but dry-site species had lower W shear at a given LMA, leading to the observed LL – LMA shift with rainfall. These patterns were driven by 50% lower tissue toughness in dry-site species.
  • • 
    The lower toughness was linked with high leaf N concentration, which is known to enhance water conservation during photosynthesis in low-rainfall species. Our results suggest that a significant cost of this strategy is reduced LL for a given investment in leaf tissue (LMA).