Traditional plant functional groups explain variation in economic but not size-related traits across the tundra biome

H. J.D. Thomas, I. H. Myers-Smith, A. D. Bjorkman, S. C. Elmendorf, D. Blok, J. H.C. Cornelissen, B. C. Forbes, R. D. Hollister, S. Normand, J. S. Prevéy, C. Rixen, G. Schaepman-Strub, M. Wilmking, S. Wipf, W. K. Cornwell, J. Kattge, S. J. Goetz, K. C. Guay, J. M. Alatalo, A. Anadon-RosellS. Angers-Blondin, L. T. Berner, R. G. Björk, A. Buchwal, A. Buras, M. Carbognani, K. Christie, L. Siegwart Collier, E. J. Cooper, A. Eskelinen, E. R. Frei, O. Grau, P. Grogan, M. Hallinger, M. M.P.D. Heijmans, L. Hermanutz, J. M.G. Hudson, K. Hülber, M. Iturrate-Garcia, C. M. Iversen, F. Jaroszynska, J. F. Johnstone, E. Kaarlejärvi, A. Kulonen, L. J. Lamarque, E. Lévesque, C. J. Little, A. Michelsen, A. Milbau, J. Nabe-Nielsen, S. S. Nielsen, J. M. Ninot, S. F. Oberbauer, J. Olofsson, V. G. Onipchenko, A. Petraglia, S. B. Rumpf, P. R. Semenchuk, N. A. Soudzilovskaia, M. J. Spasojevic, J. D.M. Speed, K. D. Tape, M. te Beest, M. Tomaselli, A. Trant, U. A. Treier, S. Venn, T. Vowles, S. Weijers, T. Zamin, O. K. Atkin, M. Bahn, B. Blonder, G. Campetella, B. E.L. Cerabolini, F. S. Chapin, M. Dainese, F. T. de Vries, S. Díaz, W. Green, R. B. Jackson, P. Manning, Niinemets, W. A. Ozinga, J. Peñuelas, P. B. Reich, B. Schamp, S. Sheremetev, P. M. van Bodegom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

Aim: Plant functional groups are widely used in community ecology and earth system modelling to describe trait variation within and across plant communities. However, this approach rests on the assumption that functional groups explain a large proportion of trait variation among species. We test whether four commonly used plant functional groups represent variation in six ecologically important plant traits. Location: Tundra biome. Time period: Data collected between 1964 and 2016. Major taxa studied: 295 tundra vascular plant species. Methods: We compiled a database of six plant traits (plant height, leaf area, specific leaf area, leaf dry matter content, leaf nitrogen, seed mass) for tundra species. We examined the variation in species-level trait expression explained by four traditional functional groups (evergreen shrubs, deciduous shrubs, graminoids, forbs), and whether variation explained was dependent upon the traits included in analysis. We further compared the explanatory power and species composition of functional groups to alternative classifications generated using post hoc clustering of species-level traits. Results: Traditional functional groups explained significant differences in trait expression, particularly amongst traits associated with resource economics, which were consistent across sites and at the biome scale. However, functional groups explained 19% of overall trait variation and poorly represented differences in traits associated with plant size. Post hoc classification of species did not correspond well with traditional functional groups, and explained twice as much variation in species-level trait expression. Main conclusions: Traditional functional groups only coarsely represent variation in well-measured traits within tundra plant communities, and better explain resource economic traits than size-related traits. We recommend caution when using functional group approaches to predict tundra vegetation change, or ecosystem functions relating to plant size, such as albedo or carbon storage. We argue that alternative classifications or direct use of specific plant traits could provide new insights for ecological prediction and modelling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-95
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Volume28
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Natural Environment Research Council, Grant/Award Number: NE/M016323/1 and NE/L002558/1; Academy of Finland, Grant/Award Number: 256991; ArcticNet; The Arctic Research Centre; Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Carlsberg Foundation, Grant/Award Number: 2013‐01‐0825; Danish Council for Independent Research, Grant/Award Number: DFF 4181‐00565; European Research Council, Grant/Award Number: ERC‐SyG‐2013‐610028 IMBALANCE‐P; Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle‐Jena‐Leipzig, Grant/Award Number: DFG FZT 118; JPI Climate, Grant/Award Number: 291581; Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions, Grant/Award Number: INCA 600398; Montagna di Torricchio Nature Reserve; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; US National Science Foundation, Grant/Award Number: DEB‐1637686, DEB‐1234162 and DEB‐1242531; Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; Organismo AutD?nomo Parques Nacionales; Polar Continental Shelf Program; Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Russian Science Foundation, Grant/Award Number: 14‐50‐000290; Swedish Research Council, Grant/Award Number: 2015‐00465 015‐00498; Swiss National Science Foundation; University of Zurich; U.S. Department of Energy

Funding Information:
The project was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council [ShrubTundra Project NE/M016323/1 (IMS, AB, HT, SAB, DG) & PhD Studentship NE/L002558/1 (HT)], the Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle‐ Jena‐Leipzig (DFG FZT 118; sTundra working group [postdoctoral fel‐ lowship to AB]). The study has been supported by the TRY initiative on plant traits (https://www.try‐db.org). The TRY initiative and data‐ base is hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany. TRY is currently supported by DIVERSITAS/Future Earth and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle‐Jena‐Leipzig. Authors were supported by the Swedish Research Council (2015‐00465) (DB) and (2015‐00498) (EK), Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (INCA 600398) (DB), the National Science Foundation (USA; RH), the Carlsberg Foundation (2013‐01‐0825) (SN), the Danish Council for Independent Research ‐ Natural Sciences (DFF 4181‐00565) (SN), European Research Council Synergy grant ERC‐SyG‐2013‐610028 IMBALANCE‐P (JP), University of Zurich Research Priority Program on Global Change and Biodiversity (GSS, MIG), the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science (Next‐Generation Ecosystem Experiments in the Arctic ‐ NGEE Arctic) (CMI), NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment ‐ ABoVE (LB, SG), The Swiss National Science Foundation (EF, AK, SV), NSERC Canada (EL, JJ, AP, BSPG, TZ), ArcticNet (EL, AP, GH), The US National Science Foundation Niwot Ridge LTER (DEB‐1637686) (MJ), Long‐Term Ecological Research (DEB‐1234162) (PR) and Long‐Term Research in Environmental Biology (DEB‐1242531) (PR), Organismo AutD?nomo Parques Nacionales (JMN), the Arctic Research Centre, Denmark (JNN), RSF (#14‐50‐000290) (VO), the Polar Continental Shelf Program (AP, EL, GH), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (GH), the Montagna di Torricchio Nature Reserve (Italy) (GC) the Academy of Finland Decisions no. 256991 (BF), JPI Climate no. 291581 (BF), and the BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (BB/L02456X/1) (FTdV). Additional data and contributions were provided by L. Andreu‐Hayles, P. Beck, A. Blach Overgaard, B. Bond‐Lamberty, J. Craine, J. Dickie, S. Dullinger, B. Eberling, B. Enquist, J. Fang, K. Fleischer, H. Ford, G. Freschet, E. Garnier, D. Georges, R. Halfdan Jørgensen, K. Harper, S. Harrison, M. Harze, G. Henry, S. Jansen, J. Hille Ris Lambers, R. Klady, M. Kleyer, S. Kuleza, T. Lantz, A. Lavalle, F. Louault, B. Medlyn, R. Milla, J. Ordonez, C. Pladevall, H. Poorter, P. Poschlod, C. Price, N. Rueger, B. Sandel, F. Schweingruber, B. Shipley, A. Siefert, L. Street, K. Suding, J. Tremblay, M. Tremblay, M. Vellend, E. Weiher, C. Wirth, P. Wookey and I. Wright and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Seed Information Database (SID). We thank innumerable field technicians, logistics teams, graduate and undergraduate assistants for help with data collection, and parks, wildlife refuges, field stations, and the local and indigenous people for the opportunity to conduct research on their land. Finally, we thank the referees and editors for their constructive comments on the manuscript.

Funding Information:
The project was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council [ShrubTundra Project NE/M016323/1 (IMS, AB, HT, SAB, DG) & PhD Studentship NE/L002558/1 (HT)], the Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig (DFG FZT 118; sTundra working group [postdoctoral fellowship to AB]). The study has been supported by the TRY initiative on plant traits (https://www.try-db.org). The TRY initiative and database is hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany. TRY is currently supported by DIVERSITAS/Future Earth and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. Authors were supported by the Swedish Research Council (2015-00465) (DB) and (2015-00498) (EK), Marie Sk?odowska Curie Actions (INCA 600398) (DB), the National Science Foundation (USA; RH), the Carlsberg Foundation (2013-01-0825) (SN), the Danish Council for Independent Research - Natural Sciences (DFF 4181-00565) (SN), European Research Council Synergy grant ERC-SyG-2013-610028 IMBALANCE-P (JP), University of Zurich Research Priority Program on Global Change and Biodiversity (GSS, MIG), the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science (Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments in the Arctic - NGEE Arctic) (CMI), NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment - ABoVE (LB, SG), The Swiss National Science Foundation (EF, AK, SV), NSERC Canada (EL, JJ, AP, BSPG, TZ), ArcticNet (EL, AP, GH), The US National Science Foundation Niwot Ridge LTER (DEB-1637686) (MJ), Long-Term Ecological Research (DEB-1234162) (PR) and Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology (DEB-1242531) (PR), Organismo Aut?nomo Parques Nacionales (JMN), the Arctic Research Centre, Denmark (JNN), RSF (#14-50-000290) (VO), the Polar Continental Shelf Program (AP, EL, GH), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (GH), the Montagna di Torricchio Nature Reserve (Italy) (GC) the Academy of Finland Decisions no. 256991 (BF), JPI Climate no. 291581 (BF), and the BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (BB/L02456X/1) (FTdV). Additional data and contributions were provided by L. Andreu-Hayles, P. Beck, A. Blach Overgaard, B. Bond-Lamberty, J. Craine, J. Dickie, S. Dullinger, B. Eberling, B. Enquist, J. Fang, K. Fleischer, H. Ford, G. Freschet, E. Garnier, D. Georges, R. Halfdan J?rgensen, K. Harper, S. Harrison, M. Harze, G. Henry, S. Jansen, J. Hille Ris Lambers, R. Klady, M. Kleyer, S. Kuleza, T. Lantz, A. Lavalle, F. Louault, B. Medlyn, R. Milla, J. Ordonez, C. Pladevall, H. Poorter, P. Poschlod, C. Price, N. Rueger, B. Sandel, F. Schweingruber, B. Shipley, A. Siefert, L. Street, K. Suding, J. Tremblay, M. Tremblay, M. Vellend, E. Weiher, C. Wirth, P. Wookey and I. Wright and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Seed Information Database (SID). We thank innumerable field technicians, logistics teams, graduate and undergraduate assistants for help with data collection, and parks, wildlife refuges, field stations, and the local and indigenous people for the opportunity to conduct research on their land. Finally, we thank the referees and editors for their constructive comments on the manuscript.

Keywords

  • cluster analysis
  • community composition
  • ecosystem function
  • plant functional groups
  • plant functional types
  • plant traits
  • tundra biome
  • vegetation change

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