, Volume 186, Issue 3, pp 765–782 | Cite as

Decoupled dimensions of leaf economic and anti-herbivore defense strategies in a tropical canopy tree community

  • K. McManus Chauvin
  • G. P. Asner
  • R. E. Martin
  • W. J. Kress
  • S. J. Wright
  • C. B. Field
Community ecology – original research


Trade-offs among plant functional traits indicate diversity in plant strategies of growth and survival. The leaf economics spectrum (LES) reflects a trade-off between short-term carbon gain and long-term leaf persistence. A related trade-off, between foliar growth and anti-herbivore defense, occurs among plants growing in contrasting resource regimes, but it is unclear whether this trade-off is maintained within plant communities, where resource gradients are minimized. The LES and the growth-defense trade-off involve related traits, but the extent to which these trade-off dimensions are correlated is poorly understood. We assessed the relationship between leaf economic and anti-herbivore defense traits among sunlit foliage of 345 canopy trees in 83 species on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. We quantified ten traits related to resource allocation and defense, and identified patterns of trait co-variation using multivariate ordination. We tested whether traits and ordination axes were correlated with patterns of phylogenetic relatedness, juvenile demographic trade-offs, or topo-edaphic variation. Two independent axes described ~ 60% of the variation among canopy trees. Axis 1 revealed a trade-off between leaf nutritional and structural investment, consistent with the LES. Physical defense traits were largely oriented along this axis. Axis 2 revealed a trade-off between investments in phenolic defenses versus other foliar defenses, which we term the leaf defense spectrum. Phylogenetic relationships and topo-edaphic variation largely did not explain trait co-variation. Our results suggest that some trade-offs among the growth and defense traits of outer-canopy trees may be captured by the LES, while others may occur along additional resource allocation dimensions.


Canopy trees Functional traits Leaf economics Plant defense Tropical forests 



We thank K. Kryston, B. Tsang, F. Sinca, R. Tupayachi, N. Jaramillo, J.A. Vega, R. Mena-Werth, and C. Mong for their indispensable help with logistics, field work, and laboratory analyses. The Carnegie Spectranomics Project ( is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Author contribution statement

KMC, GPA, and CBF conceived and designed this study. GPA, REM, and KMC developed methodology. GPA and SJW collaborated on sampling design. KMC, REM, and GPA conducted fieldwork and chemical analyses. WJK generated the molecular phylogeny. KMC wrote the manuscript; other authors provided editorial advice.

Compliance with ethical standards

Human/animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2017_4043_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2810 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth System ScienceStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Global EcologyCarnegie Institution for ScienceStanford, CAUSA
  3. 3.Department of BotanySmithsonian National Museum of Natural HistoryWashington, DCUSA
  4. 4.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama
  5. 5.Stanford University, Stanford Woods Institute for the EnvironmentStanford, CAUSA

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