Phylogenetic Variation in Leaf Longevity

  • Kihachiro KikuzawaEmail author
  • Martin J. Lechowicz
Part of the Ecological Research Monographs book series (ECOLOGICAL)


There are broad patterns of variation in leaf longevity associated with plant growth form (Fig. 5.1), and leaf longevity spans more than two orders of magnitude (Fig. 5.2). Longevities as little as a few weeks are recorded for some herbaceous species and 20 years or more for some woody species (Wright et al. 2004). Lusk (2001) reported leaf longevities for a conifer in south-central Chile as long as 26.2 years in shaded sites and 21.5 years in open sites. The extensive compilation of leaf longevities by Wright et al. (2004) is primarily for woody species (79%), mostly shrubs and trees, with only a few vines; the herbaceous plants in this compilation include graminoids as well as forbs. The median value of leaf longevity in this data set is 8.5 months. Biologically noteworthy longevities are illustrated by the temporary flattening of the rank-order diagram (see Fig. 5.2) at about 3.5 months and again at 6 months. Although there is in general a highly regular and continuous variation in longevity across species, these clusters of species with similar longevities suggest the existence of some sort of limiting factor on leaf viability associated with ­longevities of these durations. We can speculate that the 6-month longevity reflects the typical length of the growing season in temperate regions where many of the compiled data were taken, but what might account for the 3.5-month longevity? This cluster of species with rather rapid leaf turnover includes many fast-growing herbaceous and woody species from temperate regions, which reflects a dichotomy between deciduous species that produce only one set of leaves per season and others which produce leaves throughout the season. Even within a single climatic regime there are alternative evolutionary outcomes in the organization of foliar phenology that involve distinct differences in leaf longevity.


Adaptive Radiation Evergreen Species Leaf Longevity Extensive Compilation Needle Longevity 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ishikawa Prefectural UniversityNonoichiJapan
  2. 2.Department of BiologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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