Evidence of a general 2/3-power law of scaling leaf nitrogen to phosphorus among major plant groups and biomes

Peter B. Reich, Jacek Oleksyn, Ian J. Wright, Karl J. Niklas, Lars O. Hedin, James J. Eiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


Scaling relations among plant traits are both cause and consequence of processes at organ-to-ecosystem scales. The relationship between leaf nitrogen and phosphorus is of particular interest, as both elements are essential for plant metabolism; their limited availabilities often constrain plant growth, and general relations between the two have been documented. Herein, we use a comprehensive dataset of more than 9300 observations of approximately 2500 species from 70 countries to examine the scaling of leaf nitrogen to phosphorus within and across taxonomical groups and biomes. Power law exponents derived from log-log scaling relations were near 2/3 for all observations pooled, for angiosperms and gymnosperms globally, and for angiosperms grouped by biomes, major functional groups, orders or families. The uniform 2/3 scaling of leaf nitrogen to leaf phosphorus exists along a parallel continuum of rising nitrogen, phosphorus, specific leaf area, photosynthesis and growth, as predicted by stoichiometric theory which posits that plants with high growth rates require both high allocation of phosphorus-rich RNA and a high metabolic rate to support the energy demands of macromolecular synthesis. The generality of this finding supports the view that this stoichiometric scaling relationship and the mechanisms that underpin it are foundational components of the living world. Additionally, although abundant variance exists within broad constraints, these results also support the idea that surprisingly simple rules regulate leaf form and function in terrestrial ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)877-883
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1683
StatePublished - Mar 22 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Global scaling
  • Growth rate hypothesis
  • Metabolism
  • Stoichiometry


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