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Revisiting the Holy Grail: using plant functional traits to understand ecological processes

Published on May 1, 2017in Biological Reviews10.288
· DOI :10.1111/brv.12275
Jennifer L. Funk24
Estimated H-index: 24
(College of Science and Technology),
Julie E. Larson3
Estimated H-index: 3
(College of Science and Technology)
+ 7 AuthorsJustin P. Wright28
Estimated H-index: 28
(Duke University)
Sources
Abstract
One of ecology's grand challenges is developing general rules to explain and predict highly complex systems. Understanding and predicting ecological processes from species' traits has been considered a ‘Holy Grail’ in ecology. Plant functional traits are increasingly being used to develop mechanistic models that can predict how ecological communities will respond to abiotic and biotic perturbations and how species will affect ecosystem function and services in a rapidly changing world; however, significant challenges remain. In this review, we highlight recent work and outstanding questions in three areas: - (i) selecting relevant traits; - (ii) describing intraspecific trait variation and incorporating this variation into models, and; - (iii) scaling trait data to community- and ecosystem-level processes. Over the past decade, there have been significant advances in the characterization of plant strategies based on traits and trait relationships, and the integration of traits into multivariate indices and models of community and ecosystem function. However, the utility of trait-based approaches in ecology will benefit from efforts that demonstrate how these traits and indices influence organismal, community, and ecosystem processes across vegetation types, which may be achieved through meta-analysis and enhancement of trait databases. Additionally, intraspecific trait variation and species interactions need to be incorporated into predictive models using tools such as Bayesian hierarchical modelling. Finally, existing models linking traits to community and ecosystem processes need to be empirically tested for their applicability to be realized.
  • References (259)
  • Citations (104)
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References259
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#1Gregory M. Ames (Duke University)H-Index: 7
#2Steven M. Anderson (Duke University)H-Index: 7
Last. Justin P. Wright (Duke University)H-Index: 28
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Summary Trait-based approaches offer a way to predict changes in community structure along environmental gradients using measurable properties of individuals. Promoted as being generalizable across systems, trait-based approaches benefit from information about the environmental drivers of trait variation, how they interact and how they change with scale. However, for most diverse, natural communities, it is largely unknown whether the relationships between leaf-level traits and interacting envir...
19 CitationsSource
#1Julie E. Larson (College of Science and Technology)H-Index: 3
#2Jennifer L. Funk (College of Science and Technology)H-Index: 24
Summary Root trait variation and plasticity could be key factors differentiating plant performance under drought. However, water manipulation and root measurements are rarely coupled empirically across growth forms to identify whether belowground strategies are generalizable across species. We measured seedling root traits across three moisture levels in 18 Mediterranean forbs, grasses, and woody species. Drought increased the root mass fraction (RMF) and decreased the relative proportion of thi...
25 CitationsSource
#1Julie E. Larson (OSU: Oregon State University)H-Index: 2
#2Roger L. Sheley (USDA: United States Department of Agriculture)H-Index: 13
Last. Jeremy J. James (University of California, Berkeley)H-Index: 27
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Seedling recruitment is a critical driver of population dynamics and community assembly, yet we know little about functional traits that define different recruitment strategies. For the first time, we examined whether trait relatedness across germination and seedling stages allows the identification of general recruitment strategies which share core functional attributes and also correspond to recruitment outcomes in applied settings. We measured six seed and eight seedling traits (lab- and fiel...
14 CitationsSource
#1Georges KunstlerH-Index: 24
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Data from millions of trees in thousands of locations are used to show that certain key traits affect competitive ability in predictable ways, and that there are trade-offs between traits that favour growth with and without competition.
222 CitationsSource
#1Sandra Díaz (National University of Cordoba)H-Index: 71
#2Jens Kattge (MPG: Max Planck Society)H-Index: 47
Last. Lucas D. Gorné (National University of Cordoba)H-Index: 4
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#2Isabelle Badenhausser (University of La Rochelle)H-Index: 12
Last. Nicolas Gross (University of La Rochelle)H-Index: 24
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Understanding the consequences of trophic interactions for ecosystem functioning is challenging, as contrasting effects of species and functional diversity can be expected across trophic levels. We experimentally manipulated functional identity and diversity of grassland insect herbivores and tested their impact on plant community biomass. Herbivore resource acquisition traits, i.e. mandible strength and the diversity of mandibular traits, had more important effects on plant biomass than body si...
26 CitationsSource
#1Andrew SiefertH-Index: 12
#2Cyrille ViolleH-Index: 26
Last. David A. Wardle (SLU: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences)H-Index: 92
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Recent studies have shown that accounting for intraspecific trait variation (ITV) may better address major questions in community ecology. However, a general picture of the relative extent of ITV compared to interspecific trait variation in plant communities is still missing. Here, we conducted a meta-analysis of the relative extent of ITV within and among plant communities worldwide, using a data set encompassing 629 communities (plots) and 36 functional traits. Overall, ITV accounted for 25% o...
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#1Yoann Le Bagousse-Pinguet (Sewanee: The University of the South)H-Index: 18
#2Luca Börger (Swansea University)H-Index: 21
Last. Nicolas Gross (CNRS: Centre national de la recherche scientifique)H-Index: 24
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24 CitationsSource
#1Michael D. Madritch (UW: University of Wisconsin-Madison)H-Index: 18
#2Richard L. Lindroth (UW: University of Wisconsin-Madison)H-Index: 59
Summary While the importance of plant secondary metabolites to belowground functioning is gaining recognition, the perception remains that secondary metabolites are produced for herbivore defense, whereas their belowground impacts are ecological by-products, or ‘afterlife’ effects. However, plants invest a significant amount of resources into production of secondary metabolites that have minimal effects on herbivore resistance (e.g. condensed tannins and insect herbivores). We show that genetica...
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#2Bazartseren Boldgiv (National University of Mongolia)H-Index: 16
Last. Brenda B. Casper (UPenn: University of Pennsylvania)H-Index: 31
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Climate change is expected to modify plant assemblages in ways that will have major consequences for ecosystem functions. How climate change will affect community composition will depend on how individual species respond, which is likely related to interspecific differences in functional traits. The extraordinary plasticity of some plant traits is typically neglected in assessing how climate change will affect different species. In the Mongolian steppe, we examined whether leaf functional traits...
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