Lack of evidence for 3/4 scaling of metabolism in terrestrial plants

Hai Tao Li, Xing Guo Han, Jianguo Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Scaling, as the translation of information across spatial, temporal, and organizational scales, is essential to predictions and understanding in all sciences and has become a central issue in ecology. A large body of theoretical and empirical evidence concerning allometric scaling in terrestrial individual plants and plant communities has been constructed around the fractal volume-filling theory of West, Brown, and Enquist (the WBE model). One of the most thought-provoking findings has been that the metabolic rates of plants, like those of animals, scale with their size as a 3/4 power law. The earliest, single most-important study cited in support of the application of the WBE model to terrestrial plants claims that whole-plant resource use in terrestrial plants scales as the 3/4 power of total mass, as predicted by the WBE model. However, in the present study we show that empirical data actually do not support such a claim. More recent studies cited as evidence for 3/4 scaling also suffer from several statistical and data-related problems. Using a forest biomass dataset including 1 266 plots of 17 main forest types across China, we explored the scaling exponents between tree productivity and tree mass and found no universal value across forest stands. We conclude that there is not sufficient evidence to support the existence of a single constant scaling exponent for the metabolism-biomass relationship for terrestrial plants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1173-1183
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Integrative Plant Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • 3/4 power
  • Metabolism
  • Scaling
  • Terrestrial plants
  • Water use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Plant Science


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