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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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 ecosystem 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 insight into ecological prediction and modelling.

Details

Authors
  • 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. Cornwell
  • J. Kattge
  • S. J. Goetz
  • K. C. Guay
  • J. M. Alatalo
  • A. Anadon-Rosell
  • And 69 others
  • S. 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. Heijman
  • 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. Jackson
  • P. Manning
  • Niinemets
  • W. A. Ozinga
  • J. Peñuelas
  • P. B. Reich
  • B. Schamp
  • S. Sheremetev
  • P. M. van Bodegom
Organisations
External organisations
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Aarhus University
  • Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
  • University of Colorado
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • University of Lapland
  • Grand Valley State University
  • WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF
  • University of Zurich
  • University of Greifswald
  • University of New South Wales
  • Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
  • German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv)
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
  • Qatar University
  • University of Barcelona
  • University of Gothenburg
  • Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre
  • Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań
  • University of Alaska Anchorage
  • Wageningen University
  • University of Parma
  • The Alaska Department of Fish and Game
  • Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø
  • Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
  • University of Oulu
  • University of British Columbia
  • Autonomous University of Barcelona
  • Queen's University
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå
  • British Columbia Public Service
  • University of Vienna
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • University of Bergen
  • University of Saskatchewan
  • Umeå University
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)
  • University of Helsinki
  • University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières
  • Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology
  • University of Copenhagen
  • Research Institute for Nature and Forest
  • Florida International University
  • Lomonosov Moscow State University
  • Leiden University
  • University of California, Riverside
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • Utrecht University
  • University of Waterloo
  • Australian National University
  • Deakin University
  • University of Bonn
  • University of Innsbruck
  • University of Oxford
  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
  • University of Camerino
  • University of Insubria
  • Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg
  • University of Manchester
  • National University of Cordoba, Argentina
  • Harvard University
  • Stanford University
  • Estonian University of Life Sciences - EMÜ
  • Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry (CERAF)
  • University of Minnesota system
  • Western Sydney University
  • Algoma University
  • Komarov Botanical Institute, Sankt Petersburg
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology
  • Physical Geography

Keywords

  • cluster analysis, community composition, ecosystem function, plant functional groups, plant functional types, plant traits, tundra biome, vegetation change
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-95
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Volume28
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes