Adrienne Nicotra


The morphology section includes a broad range of topics, all dealing with characteristics of leaves, stems, roots and seeds at a macroscopic scale. See the Anatomy and Microscopy section for structure at a finer scale. Several of the traits considered here are also covered in the Cornelissen et al Handbook (see reference and link at bottom of this page).

Whole leaf traits:

We have selected several leaf traits that have been identified as significant leaf functional traits. These include leaf lifespan (the average lifespan of an individual leaf), leaf size and shape and specific leaf area (SLA) or it’s inverse leaf mass per unit area (LMA). Most of these traits have been shown to vary in predictable ways as a function of growth environment (Cornelissen et al. 2003; Wright et al. 2004).

Leaf biomechanics:

Measures of biomechanics, including fracture toughness and modulus of elasticity are useful in studies of herbivore and pathogen defense and in conjunction with studies of leaf lifespan and leaf economics.

Leaf disease and damage:

Protocols in this section describe how to measure leaf disease, damage, necrosis and loss to herbivory.

Root structure and architecture:

Roots, being surrounded by soil, can be very difficult to study. This section includes some of the latest methods for analysing root growth and morphology and the branching patterns, or architecture of the root system.

Wood traits:

Wood traits determine the ability of a wood species to overtop competitors and display leaf area. These structural characteristics are tightly related to vascular traits, which are covered in the Water relations section. Here, we examine wood density, the oven-dry mass divided by green volume of a stem. Density describes the investment or carbon storage of a given stem (Chave et al. 2009).

Seed traits:

Seed size, generally measured as air-dried seed mass, is an indication of a seeds ability to tolerate the stresses of seed establishment and it also correlated with the environmental conditions under which the seeds are formed and establish (Moles et al. 2005).


See lower level summaries for more information

  • Chave J, Coomes D, Jansen S, Lewis SL, Swenson NG, Zanne AE (2009) Towards a worldwide wood economics spectrum. Ecology Letters 12:351-366
  • Cornelissen JHC et al. (2003) A handbook of protocols for standardised and easy measurement of plant functional traits worldwide. Australian Journal of Botany 51:335-380 Click here for PDF
  • Moles AT, Ackerly DD, Webb CO, Tweddle JC, Dickie JB, Westoby M (2005) A brief history of seed size. Science 307:576-580
  • Wright IJ et al. (2004) The worldwide leaf economics spectrum. Nature 428:821-827


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