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How do leaf veins influence the worldwide leaf economic spectrum? Review and synthesis

Sack, Lawren, Scoffoni, Christine, John, Grace P., Poorter, Hendrik, Mason, Chase M., Mendez-Alonzo, Rodrigo, Donovan, Lisa A.
Journal of experimental botany 2013 v.64 no.13 pp. 4053-4080
breeding, cultivars, data collection, databases, economics, equations, gas exchange, leaf area, leaves, longevity, nitrogen content, photosynthesis, plant veins, stomatal conductance
Leaf vein traits are implicated in the determination of gas exchange rates and plant performance. These traits are increasingly considered as causal factors affecting the ‘leaf economic spectrum’ (LES), which includes the light-saturated rate of photosynthesis, dark respiration, foliar nitrogen concentration, leaf dry mass per area (LMA) and leaf longevity. This article reviews the support for two contrasting hypotheses regarding a key vein trait, vein length per unit leaf area (VLA). Recently, , proposed that vein traits, including VLA, can be described as the ‘origin’ of the LES by structurally determining LMA and leaf thickness, and thereby vein traits would predict LES traits according to specific equations. Careful re-examination of leaf anatomy, published datasets, and a newly compiled global database for diverse species did not support the ‘vein origin’ hypothesis, and moreover showed that the apparent power of those equations to predict LES traits arose from circularity. This review provides a ‘flux trait network’ hypothesis for the effects of vein traits on the LES and on plant performance, based on a synthesis of the previous literature. According to this hypothesis, VLA, while virtually independent of LMA, strongly influences hydraulic conductance, and thus stomatal conductance and photosynthetic rate. We also review (i) the specific physiological roles of VLA; (ii) the role of leaf major veins in influencing LES traits; and (iii) the role of VLA in determining photosynthetic rate per leaf dry mass and plant relative growth rate. A clear understanding of leaf vein traits provides a new perspective on plant function independently of the LES and can enhance the ability to explain and predict whole plant performance under dynamic conditions, with applications towards breeding improved crop varieties.