The carbon balance of plants: economics, optimization, and trait spectra in a historical perspective.


Over fifty years have passed since the publication of Harold Mooney's formative paper, "The Carbon Balance of Plants" on pages 315-346 of Volume 3 (1972) of Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. Arguably, the conceptual framework presented in that paper, and the work by Mooney and his students leading up to the paper, provided the foundational principles from which core disciplines emerged in plant economic theory, functional trait theory and, more generally, plant physiological ecology. Here, we revisit the primary impacts of those early discoveries to understand how researchers constructed major concepts in our understanding of plant adaptations, and where those concepts are likely to take us in the near future. The discipline of functional trait ecology, which is rooted in the principles of evolutionary and economic optimization, has captured the imagination of the plant physiological ecology research community, though its emphasis has shifted toward predicting species distributions and ecological roles across resource gradients. In the face of 'big-data' research pursuits that are revealing trait expression patterns at the cellular level and mass and energy exchange patterns at the planetary scale, an opportunity exists to reconnect the principles of plant carbon balance and evolutionary optimization with trait origins at the genetic and cellular scales and trait impacts at the global scale.

Last updated on 06/07/2024