1. Trade-offs among functional traits reveal major plant strategies that can give insight into species distributions and ecosystem processes. However, current identification of plant strategies lacks the integration of root structural traits together with leaf and stem traits.
2. We examined correlations among 14 traits representing leaf, stem and woody root tissues. Traits were measured on 1084 individuals representing 758 Neotropical tree species, across 13 sites representative of the environmental variation encompassed by three widespread habitats (seasonally flooded, clay terra firme and white-sand forests) at opposite ends of Amazonia (French Guiana and Peru).
3. Woody root traits were closely aligned with stem traits, but not with leaf traits. Altogether leaf, stem and woody root traits delineated two orthogonal axes of functional trade-offs: a first axis defined by leaf traits, corresponding to a ‘leaf economics spectrum’, and a second axis defined by covarying stem and woody root traits, corresponding to a ‘wood economics spectrum’. These axes remained consistent when accounting for species evolutionary history with phylogenetically independent contrasts.
4. Despite the strong species turnover across sites, the covariation among root and stem structural traits as well as their orthogonality to leaf traits were strongly consistent across habitats and regions.
5. We conclude that root structural traits mirrored stem traits rather than leaf traits in Neotropical trees. Leaf and wood traits define an integrated whole-plant strategy in lowland South American forests that may contribute to a more complete understanding of plant responses to global changes in both correlative and modelling approaches. We suggest further meta-analyses in expanded environmental and geographic zones to determine the generality of this pattern.