Original Paper


, Volume 104, Issue 1, pp 24-30

First online:

Different photosynthesis-nitrogen relations in deciduous hardwood and evergreen coniferous tree species

  • P. B. ReichAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota
  • , M. B. WaltersAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota
  • , B. D. KloeppelAffiliated withDepartment of Forestry, University of Wisconsin
  • , D. S. EllsworthAffiliated withBiosystems and Process Sciences Division, Brookhaven National Laboratory

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


The relationship between photosynthetic capacity (A max) and leaf nitrogen concentration (N) among all C3 species can be described roughly with one general equation, yet within that overall pattern species groups or individual species may have markedly different A max-N relationships. To determine whether one or several predictive, fundamental A max-N relationships exist for temperate trees we measured A max, specific leaf area (SLA) and N in 22 broad-leaved deciduous and 9 needle-leaved evergreen tree species in Wisconsin, United States. For broad-leaved deciduous trees, mass-based A max was highly correlated with leaf N (r 2=0.75, P<0.001). For evergreen conifers, mass-based A max was also correlated with leaf N (r 2=0.59, P<0.001) and the slope of the regression (rate of increase of A max per unit increase in N) was lower (P<0.001) by two-thirds than in the broad-leaved species (1.9 vs. 6.4 μmol CO2 g−1 N s−1), consistent with predictions based on tropical rain forest trees of short vs. long leaf life-span. On an area basis, there was a strong A max-N correlation among deciduous species (r 2=0.78, P<0.001) and no correlation (r 2=0.03, P>0.25) in the evergreen conifers. Compared to deciduous trees at a common leaf N (mass or area basis), evergreen trees had lower A max and SLA. For all data pooled, both leaf N and A max on a mass basis were correlated (r 2=0.6) with SLA; in contrast, area-based leaf N scaled tightly with SLA (r 2=0.81), but area-based A max did not (r 2=0.06) because of low A max per unit N in the evergreen conifers. Multiple regression analysis of all data pooled showed that both N (mass or area basis) and SLA were significantly (P<0.001) related to A max on mass (r 2=0.80) and area (r 2=0.55) bases, respectively. These results provide further evidence that A max-N relationships are fundamentally different for ecologically distinct species groups with differing suites of foliage characteristics: species with long leaf life-spans and low SLA, whether broad-leaved or needle-leaved, tend to have lower A max per unit leaf N and a lower slope and higher intercept of the A max-N relation than do species with shorter leaf life-span and higher SLA. A single global A max-N equation overestimates and underestimates A max for temperate trees at the upper and lower end of their leaf N range, respectively. Users of A max-N relationships in modeling photosynthesis in different ecosystems should appreciate the strengths and limitations of regression equations based on different species groupings.

Key words

Leaf life-span Evergreen Deciduous Photosynthesis Nitrogen