Journal of Plant Research

, Volume 122, Issue 3, pp 245–251 | Cite as

A paradox of leaf-trait convergence: why is leaf nitrogen concentration higher in species with higher photosynthetic capacity?

  • Kouki Hikosaka
  • Yoko Osone
Current Topics in Plant Research


It is well known that leaf photosynthesis per unit dry mass (Amass) is positively correlated with nitrogen concentration (Nmass) across naturally growing plants. In this article we show that this relationship is paradoxical because, if other traits are identical among species, plants with a higher Amass should have a lower Nmass, because of dilution by the assimilated carbon. To find a factor to overcome the dilution effect, we analyze the Nmass–Amass relationship using simple mathematical models and literature data. We propose two equations derived from plant-growth models. Model prediction is compared with the data set of leaf trait spectrum obtained on a global scale. The model predicts that plants with a higher Amass should have a higher specific nitrogen absorption rate in roots (SAR), less biomass allocation to leaves, and/or greater nitrogen allocation to leaves. From the literature survey, SAR is suggested as the most likely factor. If SAR is the sole factor maintaining the positive relationship between Nmass and Amass, the variation in SAR is predicted to be much greater than that in Amass; given that Amass varies 130-fold, SAR may vary more than 2000-fold. We predict that there is coordination between leaf and root activities among species on a global scale.


Leaf trait variation Photosynthesis–nitrogen relationship Growth model Root activity Carbon and nitrogen economy 



CO2 uptake rate per unit standing leaf mass


Conversion coefficient from CO2 to biomass


Leaf life span


Standing leaf mass


Fraction of biomass allocated to leaves


Leaf mass production


Standing leaf N


Fraction of N allocated to leaves


Leaf N production


Mean residence time of N in leaves


Leaf N concentration per unit leaf dry mass


Standing plant mass


Plant biomass production


Standing plant nitrogen


Plant N production


N resorption efficiency


Root life span


Standing root mass


Fraction of biomass allocated to roots


Root mass production


N uptake rate per unit standing root mass



We thank H. Nagashima, N.P.R. Anten and Y. Yasumura for valuable comments. This study was supported in part by grants from the Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and by the Global Environment Research Fund (F-052) from the Japan Ministry of the Environment.


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Copyright information

© The Botanical Society of Japan and Springer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Life SciencesTohoku UniversitySendaiJapan
  2. 2.Department of Natural ScienceInternational Christian UniversityMitakaJapan
  3. 3.Department of Plant EcologyForestry and Forest Products Research InstituteTsukubaJapan

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