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

K. Mc Manus Chauvin, G. P. Asner, R. E. Martin, W. J. Kress, S. J. Wright, C. B. Field

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-782
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Canopy trees
  • Functional traits
  • Leaf economics
  • Plant defense
  • Tropical forests

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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