• SAR;
  • root : leaf ratio;
  • LNC;
  • photosynthetic capacity


  • 1
    Optimal biomass allocation models predicted that an increase in specific absorption rate (SAR: nitrogen absorption rate per unit root dry weight) increases the optimal leaf N concentration (LNC) which maximizes whole-plant growth rates. From this prediction, we hypothesized that inherent differences in the N absorption ability of roots, which is represented by differences in SAR, causes interspecific differences in LNC and photosynthetic capacity (Pmax).
  • 2
    Four deciduous tree species and three herb species were grown under controlled conditions to test this hypothesis. Despite growing under the same soil N conditions, the SAR of these species differed more than sixfold, with the deciduous trees having a smaller SAR than the herbs. Consistent with the hypothesis, there were strong positive correlations between SAR, LNC and Pmax. Leaf dry mass per area and the LNC–Pmax relationship, factors correlated with leaf life span, differed little among the species, suggesting a small effect of differences in these properties on the variation in LNC.
  • 3
    Simulations were performed using an optimal biomass allocation model and parameter values determined from measurements of each species. These demonstrated that the observed variation in LNC could be explained largely by differences in the N absorption ability of the species.
  • 4
    Additionally, the causal relationship between N absorption ability and LNC, suggested by optimal biomass allocation models, was verified by manipulating the biomass allocation between roots and leaves of Morus bombycis using uniconazole, an inhibitor of gibberellin synthesis.
  • 5
    These results indicate a close functional link between N absorption ability and LNC, which would account for large variations in LNC and Pmax across species.