, Volume 114, Issue 4, pp 471–482

Relationships of leaf dark respiration to leaf nitrogen, specific leaf area and leaf life-span: a test across biomes and functional groups


  • Peter B. Reich
    • Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA Fax 612-625-5212; e-mail: preich@forestry.umn.edu
  • Michael B. Walters
    • Faculty of Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada V2N 4Z9
  • David S. Ellsworth
    • Department of Applied Science, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY 11973, USA
  • James M. Vose
    • U.S. Forest Service, Coweeta Hydrological Lab., Otto, NC 28763, USA
  • John C. Volin
    • Division of Science, Florida Atlantic University, Davie, FL 33314, USA
  • Charles Gresham
    • Baruch Forest Institute, Clemson University, Georgetown, SC 29442, USA
  • William D. Bowman
    • Mountain Research Station, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, and Department of EPO Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA

DOI: 10.1007/s004420050471

Cite this article as:
Reich, P., Walters, M., Ellsworth, D. et al. Oecologia (1998) 114: 471. doi:10.1007/s004420050471


Based on prior evidence of coordinated multiple leaf trait scaling, we hypothesized that variation among species in leaf dark respiration rate (Rd) should scale with variation in traits such as leaf nitrogen (N), leaf life-span, specific leaf area (SLA), and net photosynthetic capacity (Amax). However, it is not known whether such scaling, if it exists, is similar among disparate biomes and plant functional types. We tested this idea by examining the interspecific relationships between Rd measured at a standard temperature and leaf life-span, N, SLA and Amax for 69 species from four functional groups (forbs, broad-leafed trees and shrubs, and needle-leafed conifers) in six biomes traversing the Americas: alpine tundra/subalpine forest, Colorado; cold temperate forest/grassland, Wisconsin; cool temperate forest, North Carolina; desert/shrubland, New Mexico; subtropical forest, South Carolina; and tropical rain forest, Amazonas, Venezuela. Area-based Rd was positively related to area-based leaf N within functional groups and for all species pooled, but not when comparing among species within any site. At all sites, mass-based Rd (Rd-mass) decreased sharply with increasing leaf life-span and was positively related to SLA and mass-based Amax and leaf N (leaf Nmass). These intra-biome relationships were similar in shape and slope among sites, where in each case we compared species belonging to different plant functional groups. Significant Rd-massNmass relationships were observed in all functional groups (pooled across sites), but the relationships differed, with higher Rd at any given leaf N in functional groups (such as forbs) with higher SLA and shorter leaf life-span. Regardless of biome or functional group, Rd-mass was well predicted by all combinations of leaf life-span, Nmass and/or SLA (r2≥ 0.79, P < 0.0001). At any given SLA, Rd-mass rises with increasing Nmass and/or decreasing leaf life-span; and at any level of Nmass, Rd-mass rises with increasing SLA and/or decreasing leaf life-span. The relationships between Rd and leaf traits observed in this study support the idea of a global set of predictable interrelationships between key leaf morphological, chemical and metabolic traits.

Key words RespirationLeaf life-spanSpecific leaf areaNitrogenFunctional groups

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998