Nature 428, 821-827 (22 April 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02403; Received 15 July 2003; Accepted 10 February 2004

The worldwide leaf economics spectrum

Ian J. Wright1, Peter B. Reich2, Mark Westoby1, David D. Ackerly3, Zdravko Baruch4, Frans Bongers5, Jeannine Cavender-Bares6, Terry Chapin7, Johannes H. C. Cornelissen8, Matthias Diemer9, Jaume Flexas10, Eric Garnier11, Philip K. Groom12, Javier Gulias10, Kouki Hikosaka13, Byron B. Lamont12, Tali Lee14, William Lee15, Christopher Lusk16, Jeremy J. Midgley17, Marie-Laure Navas11, Ülo Niinemets18, Jacek Oleksyn2,19, Noriyuki Osada20, Hendrik Poorter21, Pieter Poot22, Lynda Prior23, Vladimir I. Pyankov24, Catherine Roumet11, Sean C. Thomas25, Mark G. Tjoelker26, Erik J. Veneklaas22 & Rafael Villar27

  1. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australia
  2. Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA
  3. Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA
  4. Departamento de Estudios Ambientales, Universidad Simón Bolivar, Caracas 1080, Venezuela
  5. Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, PO Box 342, 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands
  6. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, PO Box 28, 647 Contees Wharf Road, Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA
  7. Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA
  8. Institute of Ecological Science, Department of Systems Ecology, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  9. Institute für Umweltwissensch, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  10. Departament de Biologia, Laboratori de Fisiologia Vegetal, Universidad de Illes Balears, 07122 Palma de Mallorca, Illes Balears (Spain)
  11. Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS, UMR 5175, 1919, Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France
  12. Department of Environmental Biology, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia 6845, Australia
  13. Graduate School of Life Sciences, Tohoku University, Aoba, Sendai 980-8578, Japan
  14. Department of Biology, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Eau Claire, Wisconsin 54702-4004, USA
  15. Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin, New Zealand
  16. Departamento de Botánica, Universidad de Concepción, Casilla 160-C, Concepción, Chile
  17. Department of Botany, University of Cape Town, ZA-7701 Rondebosch, South Africa
  18. Department of Plant Physiology, University of Tartu, Riia 23, Tartu 51011, Estonia
  19. Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Dendrology, Parkowa 5, 62-035 Kornik, Poland
  20. Nikko Botanical Garden, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, 1842 Hanaishi, Nikko, Tochigi 321-1435, Japan
  21. Plant Ecophysiology, Utrecht University, PO Box 800.84, 3508 TB, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  22. School of Plant Biology, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
  23. Key Centre for Tropical Wildlife Management, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia
  24. Ural State University, Yekaterinburg, Russia
  25. Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, 33 Willcocks St, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3B3, Canada
  26. Department of Forest Science, Texas A&M University, 2135 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843-2135, USA
  27. Area de Ecología, Campus de Rabanales, Universidad de Córdoba, 14071 Córdoba, Spain

Correspondence to: Ian J. Wright1 Email:


Bringing together leaf trait data spanning 2,548 species and 175 sites we describe, for the first time at global scale, a universal spectrum of leaf economics consisting of key chemical, structural and physiological properties. The spectrum runs from quick to slow return on investments of nutrients and dry mass in leaves, and operates largely independently of growth form, plant functional type or biome. Categories along the spectrum would, in general, describe leaf economic variation at the global scale better than plant functional types, because functional types overlap substantially in their leaf traits. Overall, modulation of leaf traits and trait relationships by climate is surprisingly modest, although some striking and significant patterns can be seen. Reliable quantification of the leaf economics spectrum and its interaction with climate will prove valuable for modelling nutrient fluxes and vegetation boundaries under changing land-use and climate.


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