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Biol Lett. 2010 October 23; 6(5): 715–717.
Published online 2010 March 31. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2010.0070
PMCID: PMC2936133

Scaling relationship between tree respiration rates and biomass


The WBE theory proposed by West, Brown and Enquist predicts that larger plant respiration rate, R, scales to the three-quarters power of body size, M. However, studies on the R versus M relationship for larger plants (i.e. trees larger than saplings) have not been reported. Published respiration rates of field-grown trees (saplings and larger trees) were examined to test this relationship. Our results showed that for larger trees, aboveground respiration rates RA scaled as the 0.82-power of aboveground biomass MA, and that total respiration rates RT scaled as the 0.85-power of total biomass MT, both of which significantly deviated from the three-quarters scaling law predicted by the WBE theory, and which agreed with 0.81–0.84-power scaling of biomass to respiration across the full range of measured tree sizes for an independent dataset reported by Reich et al. (Reich et al. 2006 Nature 439, 457–461). By contrast, R scaled nearly isometrically with M in saplings. We contend that the scaling exponent of plant metabolism is close to unity for saplings and decreases (but is significantly larger than three-quarters) as trees grow, implying that there is no universal metabolic scaling in plants.

Keywords: allometry, respiration rates, tree biomass, WBE theory

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