Robustness of trait connections across environmental gradients and growth forms




Flores-Moreno, Habacuc
Fazayeli, Farideh
Banerjee, Arindam
Datta, Abhirup
Kattge, J
Butler, Ethan E
Atkin, Owen
Wythers, Kirk R
Chen, Ming
Anand, Madhur

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Blackwell Publishing Ltd


Aim Plant trait databases often contain traits that are correlated, but for whom direct (undirected statistical dependency) and indirect (mediated by other traits) connections may be confounded. The confounding of correlation and connection hinders our understanding of plant strategies, and how these vary among growth forms and climate zones. We identified the direct and indirect connections across plant traits relevant to competition, resource acquisition and reproductive strategies using a global database and explored whether connections within and between traits from different tissue types vary across climates and growth forms. Location Global. Major taxa studied Plants. Time period Present. Methods We used probabilistic graphical models and a database of 10 plant traits (leaf area, specific leaf area, mass‐ and area‐based leaf nitrogen and phosphorous content, leaf life span, plant height, stem specific density and seed mass) with 16,281 records to describe direct and indirect connections across woody and non‐woody plants across tropical, temperate, arid, cold and polar regions. Results Trait networks based on direct connections are sparser than those based on correlations. Land plants had high connectivity across traits within and between tissue types; leaf life span and stem specific density shared direct connections with all other traits. For both growth forms, two groups of traits form modules of more highly connected traits; one related to resource acquisition, the other to plant architecture and reproduction. Woody species had higher trait network modularity in polar compared to temperate and tropical climates, while non‐woody species did not show significant differences in modularity across climate regions. Main conclusions Plant traits are highly connected both within and across tissue types, yet traits segregate into persistent modules of traits. Variation in the modularity of trait networks suggests that trait connectivity is shaped by prevailing environmental conditions and demonstrates that plants of different growth forms use alternative strategies to cope with local conditions.



leaf traits, plant functional traits, plant strategy integration, seed traits, stem traits, trait interdependence, trait networks



Global Ecology and Biogeography


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