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Global analysis of trait–trait relationships within and between species
New Phytologist  (IF10.151),  Pub Date : 2021-11-25, DOI: 10.1111/nph.17879
Jianhong Zhou, Ellen Cieraad, Peter M. van Bodegom

  • Some commonly reported trait–trait relationships between species, including the leaf economic spectrum (LES), are regarded as important plant strategies but whether these relationships represent plant strategies in reality remains unclear.
  • We propose a novel approach to distinguish trait–trait relationships between species that may represent plant strategies vs those relationships that are the result of common drivers, by comparing the direction and strength of intraspecific trait variation (ITV) vs interspecific trait variation. We applied this framework using a unique global ITV database that we compiled, which included 11 traits related to LES, size and roots, and observations from 2064 species occurring in 1068 communities across 19 countries.
  • Generally, compared to between species, trait–trait relationships within species were much weaker or totally disappeared. Almost only within the LES traits, the between-species trait–trait relationships were translated into positive relationships within species, which suggests that they may represent plant strategies.
  • Moreover, the frequent coincidental trait–trait relationships between species, driven by co-varying common drivers, imply that in future research, decoupling of trait–trait relationships should be considered seriously in model projections of ecosystem functioning. Our study emphasizes the importance of describing the mechanisms behind trait–trait relationships, both between and within species, for deepening our understanding of general plant strategies.