Ecophysiological and bioclimatic foundations for a global plant functional classification

Authors

  • Sandy P. Harrison,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, PO Box 100164, D-07701 Jena, Germany
    2. Present address: School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol BS8 1SS, UK E-mail sandy.harrison@bristol.ac.uk
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  • I. Colin Prentice,

    Corresponding author
    1. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, PO Box 100164, D-07701 Jena, Germany
    2. Present address: QUEST, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queens Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK E-mail Colin.Prentice@bristol.ac.uk
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  • Doris Barboni,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, PO Box 100164, D-07701 Jena, Germany
    2. Present address: CEREGE, UMR6635, BP80, F-13545 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 4, France E-mail barboni@cerege.fr
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  • Karen E. Kohfeld,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, PO Box 100164, D-07701 Jena, Germany
    2. Present address: School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S6 E-mail kohfeld@suf.ca
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  • Jian Ni,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, PO Box 100164, D-07701 Jena, Germany
    2. Present address: State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xiangshan Nanxincun 20, 100093 Beijing, China E-mail jni@ibcas.ac.cn
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  • Jean-Pierre Sutra

    1. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, PO Box 100164, D-07701 Jena, Germany
    2. Present address: 78 Avenue Daumesnil, F-75012 Paris, France
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  • Co-ordinating Editor: Dr. Ingolf Kühn.

*Corresponding author; E-mail colin.prentice@bristol.ac.uk

Abstract

Question: What plant properties might define plant functional types (PFTs) for the analysis of global vegetation responses to climate change, and what aspects of the physical environment might be expected to predict the distributions of PFTs?

Methods: We review principles to explain the distribution of key plant traits as a function of bioclimatic variables. We focus on those whole-plant and leaf traits that are commonly used to define biomes and PFTs in global maps and models.

Results: Raunkiær's plant life forms (underlying most later classifications) describe different adaptive strategies for surviving low temperature or drought, while satisfying requirements for reproduction and growth. Simple conceptual models and published observations are used to quantify the adaptive significance of leaf size for temperature regulation, leaf consistency for maintaining transpiration under drought, and phenology for the optimization of annual carbon balance. A new compilation of experimental data supports the functional definition of tropical, warm-temperate, temperate and boreal phanerophytes based on mechanisms for withstanding low temperature extremes. Chilling requirements are less well quantified, but are a necessary adjunct to cold tolerance. Functional traits generally confer both advantages and restrictions; the existence of trade-offs contributes to the diversity of plants along bioclimatic gradients.

Conclusions: Quantitative analysis of plant trait distributions against bioclimatic variables is becoming possible; this opens up new opportunities for PFT classification. A PFT classification based on bioclimatic responses will need to be enhanced by information on traits related to competition, successional dynamics and disturbance.

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