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Keywords:

  • Allometry;
  • elastic similarity;
  • fractal;
  • geometric similarity;
  • hierarchical Bayes;
  • leaves;
  • scaling;
  • stress similarity;
  • trees

Abstract

Theoretical models for allometric relationships between organismal form and function are typically tested by comparing a single predicted relationship with empirical data. Several prominent models, however, predict more than one allometric relationship, and comparisons among alternative models have not taken this into account. Here we evaluate several different scaling models of plant morphology within a hierarchical Bayesian framework that simultaneously fits multiple scaling relationships to three large allometric datasets. The scaling models include: inflexible universal models derived from biophysical assumptions (e.g. elastic similarity or fractal networks), a flexible variation of a fractal network model, and a highly flexible model constrained only by basic algebraic relationships. We demonstrate that variation in intraspecific allometric scaling exponents is inconsistent with the universal models, and that more flexible approaches that allow for biological variability at the species level outperform universal models, even when accounting for relative increases in model complexity.