Benjamin Blonder, François Vasseur, Cyrille Violle, Bill Shipley, Brian J Enquist, Denis Vile
The leaf economics spectrum (LES) describes strong relationships between multiple functional leaf traits that determine resource fluxes in vascular plants. Five models have been proposed to explain these patterns: two based on patterns of structural allocation, two on venation networks and one on resource allocation to cell walls and cell contents. Here we test these models using data for leaf and whole-plant functional traits. We use structural equation modelling applied to multiple ecotypes, recombinant inbred lines, near isogenic lines and vascular patterning mutants of Arabidopsisthaliana that express LES trait variation. We show that a wide variation in multiple functional traits recapitulates the LES at the whole-plant scale. The Wright et al. (2004) model and the Blonder et al. (2013) venation network model cannot be rejected by data, while two simple models and the Shipley et al. (2006) allocation model are rejected. Venation networks remain a key hypothesis for the origin of the LES, but simpler explanations also cannot be ruled out.