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Keywords:

  • dry matter content;
  • growth form;
  • nutrient content;
  • phylogeny;
  • plant trait;
  • specific leaf area;
  • terrestrial and aquatic environments;
  • trade-off;
  • vegetative organs

Summary

1. A fundamental trade-off among vascular plants between traits inferring rapid resource acquisition and those leading to conservation of resources has now been accepted broadly, but is based on empirical data with a strong bias towards leaf traits. Here, we test whether interspecific variation in traits of different plant organs obeys this same trade-off and whether within-plant trade-offs are consistent between organs.

2. Thereto, we measured suites of the same chemical and structural traits from the main vegetative organs for a species set representing aquatic, riparian and terrestrial environments including the main vascular higher taxa and growth forms of a subarctic flora. The traits were chosen to have consistent relevance for plant defence and growth across organs and environments: carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, lignin, dry matter content, pH.

3. Our analysis shows several new trait correlations across leaves, stems and roots and a striking pattern of whole-plant integrative resource economy, leading to tight correspondence between the local leaf economics spectrum and the root (r = 0.64), stem (r = 0.78) and whole-plant (r = 0.93) economics spectra.

4.Synthesis. Our findings strongly suggest that plant resource economics is consistent across species’ organs in a subarctic flora. We provide thus the first evidence for a ‘plant economics spectrum’ closely related to the local subarctic ‘leaf economics spectrum’. Extending that concept to other biomes is, however, necessary before any generalization might be made. In a world facing rapid vegetation change, these results nevertheless bear considerable prospects of predicting below-ground plant functions from the above-ground components alone.