Relationships between plant traits and climate in the Mediterranean region: A pollen data analysis


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Question: What are the correlations between the degree of drought stress and temperature, and the adoption of specific adaptive strategies by plants in the Mediterranean region?

Location: 602 sites across the Mediterranean region.

Method: We considered 12 plant morphological and phenological traits, and measured their abundance at the sites as trait scores obtained from pollen percentages. We conducted stepwise regression analyses of trait scores as a function of plant available moisture (α) and winter temperature (MTCO).

Results: Patterns in the abundance for the plant traits we considered are clearly determined by α, MTCO or a combination of both. In addition, trends in leaf size, texture, thickness, pubescence and aromatic leaves and other plant level traits such as thorniness and aphylly, vary according to the life form (tree, shrub, forb), the leaf type (broad, needle) and phenology (evergreen, summer-green).

Conclusions: Despite conducting this study based on pollen data we have identified ecologically plausible trends in the abundance of traits along climatic gradients. Plant traits other than the usual life form, leaf type and leaf phenology carry strong climatic signals. Generally, combinations of plant traits are more climatically diagnostic than individual traits. The qualitative and quantitative relationships between plant traits and climate parameters established here will help to provide an improved basis for modelling the impact of climate changes on vegetation and form a starting point for a global analysis of pollen-climate relationships.