Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 1338–1347
Cross-species analyses of plant functional traits have shed light on factors contributing to differences in performance and distribution, but to date most studies have focused on either leaves or stems. We extend these tissue-specific analyses of functional strategy towards a whole-plant approach by integrating data on functional traits for 13 448 leaves and wood tissues from 4672 trees representing 668 species of Neotropical trees. Strong correlations amongst traits previously defined as the leaf economics spectrum reflect a tradeoff between investments in productive leaves with rapid turnover vs. costly physical leaf structure with a long revenue stream. A second axis of variation, the ‘stem economics spectrum’, defines a similar tradeoff at the stem level: dense wood vs. high wood water content and thick bark. Most importantly, these two axes are orthogonal, suggesting that tradeoffs operate independently at the leaf and at the stem levels. By simplifying the multivariate ecological strategies of tropical trees into positions along these two spectra, our results provide a basis to improve global vegetation models predicting responses of tropical forests to global change.