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Plant functional traits have globally consistent effects on competition

Georges Kunstler 1, 2 D. Falster 3 D.A. Coomes 4 F. Hui 5 R.M. Kooyman 6 D.C. Laughlin 7 L. Poorter 8 M. Vanderwel 9 G. Vieilledent 10 S.J. Wright 11 M. Aiba 12 Christopher Baraloto 13 J. Caspersen 14 J.H.C. Cornelissen 15 Sylvie Gourlet-Fleury 10 M. Hanewinkel 16 B. Herault 13 J. Kattge 17 H. Kurokawa 12 Y. Onoda 18 J. Penuelas 19 Hendrik Poorter 20 M. Uriarte 21 Sandrine Richardson 22 P. Ruiz-Benito 23 I.F. Sun 24 G. Stalh 25 N.G. Swenson 26 John Mitchell Thompson 27 B. Westerlund 25 C. Wirth 28 M.A. Zavala 29 H. Zeng 14 J.K. Zimmerman 30 N.E. Zimmermann 31 M. Westoby 3
Abstract : Phenotypic traits and their associated trade-offs have been shown to have globally consistent effects on individual plant physiological functions1, 2, 3, but how these effects scale up to influence competition, a key driver of community assembly in terrestrial vegetation, has remained unclear4. Here we use growth data from more than 3 million trees in over 140,000 plots across the world to show how three key functional traits-wood density, specific leaf area and maximum height-consistently influence competitive interactions. Fast maximum growth of a species was correlated negatively with its wood density in all biomes, and positively with its specific leaf area in most biomes. Low wood density was also correlated with a low ability to tolerate competition and a low competitive effect on neighbours, while high specific leaf area was correlated with a low competitive effect. Thus, traits generate trade-offs between performance with competition versus performance without competition, a fundamental ingredient in the classical hypothesis that the coexistence of plant species is enabled via differentiation in their successional strategies5. Competition within species was stronger than between species, but an increase in trait dissimilarity between species had little influence in weakening competition. No benefit of dissimilarity was detected for specific leaf area or wood density, and only a weak benefit for maximum height. Our trait-based approach to modelling competition makes generalization possible across the forest ecosystems of the world and their highly diverse species composition.
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Georges Kunstler, D. Falster, D.A. Coomes, F. Hui, R.M. Kooyman, et al.. Plant functional traits have globally consistent effects on competition. Nature, Nature Publishing Group, 2016, 529 (7585), pp.204-207. ⟨10.1038/nature16476⟩. ⟨hal-02602285⟩

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