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Climatic and soil factors explain the two-dimensional spectrum of global plant trait variation

Joswig, Julia S.; Wirth, Christian; Schuman, Meredith C.; Kattge, Jens; Reu, Björn; Wright, Ian J.; Sippel, Sebastian D.; Rüger, Nadja; Richter, Ronny; Schaepman, Michael E.; van Bodegom, Peter M.; Cornelissen, J. H. C.; Díaz, Sandra; Hattingh, Wesley N.; Kramer, Koen; Lens, Frederic; Niinemets, Ülo; Reich, Peter B.; Reichstein, Markus; Römermann, Christine; Schrodt, Franziska; Anand, Madhur; Bahn, Michael; Byun, Chaeho; Campetella, Giandiego; Cerabolini, Bruno E. L.; Craine, Joseph M.; Gonzalez-Melo, Andres; Gutiérrez, Alvaro G.; He, Tianhua; Higuchi, Pedro; Jactel, Hervé; Kraft, Nathan J. B.; Minden, Vanessa; Onipchenko, Vladimir; Peñuelas, Josep; Pillar, Valério D.; Sosinski, Ênio; Soudzilovskaia, Nadejda A.; Weiher, Evan; Mahecha, Miguel D.

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Julia S. Joswig

Christian Wirth

Meredith C. Schuman

Jens Kattge

Björn Reu

Ian J. Wright

Sebastian D. Sippel

Nadja Rüger

Ronny Richter

Michael E. Schaepman

Peter M. van Bodegom

J. H. C. Cornelissen

Sandra Díaz

Wesley N. Hattingh

Koen Kramer

Frederic Lens

Ülo Niinemets

Peter B. Reich

Markus Reichstein

Christine Römermann

Madhur Anand

Michael Bahn

Chaeho Byun

Giandiego Campetella

Bruno E. L. Cerabolini

Joseph M. Craine

Andres Gonzalez-Melo

Alvaro G. Gutiérrez

Tianhua He

Pedro Higuchi

Hervé Jactel

Nathan J. B. Kraft

Vanessa Minden

Vladimir Onipchenko

Josep Peñuelas

Valério D. Pillar

Ênio Sosinski

Nadejda A. Soudzilovskaia

Evan Weiher

Miguel D. Mahecha


Plant functional traits can predict community assembly and ecosystem functioning and are thus widely used in global models of vegetation dynamics and land–climate feedbacks. Still, we lack a global understanding of how land and climate affect plant traits. A previous global analysis of six traits observed two main axes of variation: (1) size variation at the organ and plant level and (2) leaf economics balancing leaf persistence against plant growth potential. The orthogonality of these two axes suggests they are differently influenced by environmental drivers. We find that these axes persist in a global dataset of 17 traits across more than 20,000 species. We find a dominant joint effect of climate and soil on trait variation. Additional independent climate effects are also observed across most traits, whereas independent soil effects are almost exclusively observed for economics traits. Variation in size traits correlates well with a latitudinal gradient related to water or energy limitation. In contrast, variation in economics traits is better explained by interactions of climate with soil fertility. These findings have the potential to improve our understanding of biodiversity patterns and our predictions of climate change impacts on biogeochemical cycles.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 10, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 23, 2021
Publication Date Dec 23, 2021
Deposit Date Jan 5, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 6, 2022
Journal Nature Ecology and Evolution
Publisher Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Pages 36-50
Keywords Ecology; Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 21 January 2021; Accepted: 10 November 2021; First Online: 23 December 2021; : The authors declare no competing interests.


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