Published October 1, 2020 | Version v1
Dataset Open

Global patterns of the leaf economics spectrum in wetlands

  • 1. Leiden University
  • 2. University of Hull
  • 3. Landcare Research
  • 4. University of Western Australia
  • 5. University of Copenhagen
  • 6. Radboud University*
  • 7. Utrecht University


The leaf economics spectrum (LES) describes consistent correlations among a variety of leaf traits that reflect a gradient from conservative to acquisitive plant strategies. So far, whether the LES holds in wetland plants at a global scale has been unclear. Using data on 365 wetland species from 151 studies, we find that wetland plants in general show a shift within trait space along the same common slope as observed in non-wetland plants, with lower leaf mass per area, higher leaf nitrogen and phosphorus, faster photosynthetic rates, and shorter leaf life span compared to non-wetland plants. We conclude that wetland plants tend to cluster at the acquisitive end of the LES. The presented global quantifications of the LES in wetland plants enhance our understanding of wetland plant strategies in terms of resources acquisition and allocation, and provide a stepping-stone to developing trait-based approaches for wetland ecology.


The study is a meta-analysis of literature data. We designed a database in which for a given species observations on traits were compiled. For each species record, we thus noted the species, study system, environmental conditions (if available), and for each trait average, sample size, standard deviation and unit. We also documented the reference from which the record had been derived. We only compiled data for species normally occurring in wetlands, or measured at wetland conditions.

We collected leaf economics traits for wetland plants on a global scale including those individuals exposed to intermittent/permanent wetland conditions (waterlogged or flooded) from both field and experiment measurements. The wetland plant leaf economics trait dataset was compiled based on a systematic search in Web of Science and Google Scholar (last updated on the 5th June 2018). The literature search included permutations of the following keywords: wetland plants, marsh plant, bog plant, isoetid, aquatic plants, macrophytes, submerged plants, floating-leaved plants, emergent plants, mangroves, leaf economics traits, leaf economics spectrum, leaf nitrogen, leaf phosphorus, SLA, LMA, leaf life span, photosynthetic rate, underwater photosynthetic rate, dark respiration rate. Additionally, our network of wetland experts from around the world contributed recommendations for possible literature that we had not retrieved. Finally, we added unpublished data of our own and of our network. In combination, we aimed to be as complete as possible without predetermined sample size. Any constraint because of the sample size obtained were accounted for in the statistical analysis.

The data in the database refer to publications of which the oldest are from the 1960s and the most recent from publications from the year 2018. We did not restrict our search to specific time periods, as we considered the observed trait values to be representative of the plant species involved. Data are meant to represent global patterns, with most data coming from Europe, United states, China and Australia/New Zealand.

Funding provided by: China Scholarship Council
Crossref Funder Registry ID:
Award Number: 201606140037



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