Aim The world-wide leaf economic spectrum (LES) describes tight coordination of leaf traits across global floras, reported to date as being largely independent of phylogeny and biogeography. Here, we present and test an alternative, historical perspective that predicts that biogeography places significant constraints on global trait evolution. These hypothesized constraints could lead to important deviations in leaf trait relationships between isolated floras that were influenced by different magnitudes of genetic constraint and selection.
Location Global, including floristic regions of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, eastern North America, East Asia (EAS), the Hawaiian Islands and tropical mainland floras.
Methods We use a large leaf-trait database (GLOPNET) and species native distribution data to test for variation in leaf trait relationships modulated by floristic region, controlling for climatic differences. Standardized major axis analyses were used to evaluate biogeographic effects on bivariate relationships between LES traits, including relationships of photosynthetic capacity and dark respiration rate (Amass–Rd-mass), leaf lifespan and mass per area ratio (LL–LMA), and photosynthetic capacity and nitrogen content (Amass–Nmass).
Results Independent of climate or biome, floras of different evolutionary histories exhibited different leaf trait allometries. Floras of the Northern Hemisphere exhibited greater rates of return on resource investment (steeper slopes for the trait relationships analysed), and the more diverse temperate EAS flora exhibited greater slopes or intercepts in leaf trait relationships, with the exception of the Amass–Nmass relationship. In contrast to our hypothesis, plants of the floristically isolated Hawaiian Islands exhibited a similar Amass–Nmass relationship to those of mainland tropical regions.
Main conclusions Differences in leaf trait allometries among global floristic regions support a historical perspective in understanding leaf trait relationships and suggest that independent floras can exhibit different tradeoffs in resource capture strategies.