The Ecophysiology of Leaf Lifespan in Tropical Forests: Adaptive and Plastic Responses to Environmental Heterogeneity

  • Sabrina E. RussoEmail author
  • Kaoru Kitajima
Part of the Tree Physiology book series (TREE, volume 6)


Leaf lifespan , the time from leaf expansion to shedding, exhibits wide variation and is a key integrator of relationships with photosynthetic rate, leaf mass per area (LMA), and leaf nitrogen among coexisting tropical tree species. We present a hierarchical view of sources of variation in leaf lifespan in tropical forests, emphasizing the importance of substantial within-species variation, which has rarely been addressed. Interspecific variation in leaf lifespan is positively correlated with LMA, varying from short-lived, low-LMA leaves to long-lived, high-LMA leaves of species associated with resource-rich versus resource-depleted habitats, respectively. Phenotypic responses of leaf lifespan and LMA to light show counter-gradient variation: with acclimation to shade, leaf lifespan increases, and LMA decreases, but both increase with adaptation to shade. In contrast, phenotypic responses to soil fertility are predicted to show co-gradient variation: both leaf lifespan and LMA increase with declining fertility both inter- and intraspecifically. We present new data analyses supporting these predictions, but the interactive effects of light and soil resources can produce complex phenotypic responses. Future studies of leaf lifespan should devote more attention to within-species variation to better quantify and explain how leaf lifespan is central to trade-offs generating the contrasting ecological strategies of tropical tree species.


Tropical Forest Sandy Loam Lamina Thickness Tropical Tree Species Belowground Resource 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Bornean and Panamanian leaf trait data were collected under the US National Science Foundation (NSF) award DEB-0919136 to SER and IBN-0093033 to KK, respectively. The manuscript preparation was initiated while SER was supported by a Short-term Fellowship (S-14181) from the Japanese Society for Promotion of Science.

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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA
  2. 2.Graduate School of AgricultureKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan
  3. 3.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaPanama

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