Inter- and intraspecific variation in leaf economic traits in wheat and maize

Adam R. Martin, Christine E. Hale, Bruno E. L. Cerabolini, Johannes H. C. Cornelissen, Joseph Craine, William A. Gough, Jens Kattge, Cairan K. F. Tirona

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Leaf Economics Spectrum (LES) trait variation underpins multiple agroecological processes and many prominent crop yield models. While there are numerous independent studies assessing trait variation in crops, to date there have been no comprehensive assessments of intraspecific trait variation (ITV) in LES traits for wheat and maize: the world’s most widespread crops. Using trait databases and peer-reviewed literature, we compiled over 700 records of specific leaf area (SLA), maximum photosynthetic rates (Amax) and leaf nitrogen (N) concentrations, for wheat and maize. We evaluated intraspecific LES trait variation, and intraspecific trait–environment relationships. While wheat and maize occupy the upper 90th percentile of LES trait values observed across a global species pool, ITV ranged widely across the LES in wheat and maize. Fertilization treatments had strong impacts on leaf N, while plant developmental stage (here standardized as the number of days since planting) had strong impacts on Amax; days since planting, N fertilization and irrigation all influenced SLA. When controlling for these factors, intraspecific responses to temperature and precipitation explained 39.4 and 43.7 % of the variation in Amax and SLA, respectively, but only 5.4 % of the variation in leaf N. Despite a long history of domestication in these species, ITV in wheat and maize among and within cultivars remains large. Intraspecific trait variation is a critical consideration to refine regional to global models of agroecosystem structure, function and food security. Considerable opportunities and benefits exist for consolidating a crop trait database for a wider range of domesticated plant species.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberply006
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalAOB Plants
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • Agroecology
  • functional trait
  • leaf economics
  • leaf trait
  • Triticum aestivum
  • Zea mays

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