PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2018, Vol. 37 ›› Issue (1): 93-101.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2018.01.010

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Advances and prospects of plant trait biogeography

Yongmei HUANG1(), Huiying CHEN1, Jinghui ZHANG2, Zhilu SHENG1, En'gui LI1, Hongyan LIU3,*()   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
    2. School of Ecology and Environments, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010021, China
    3. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2018-01-17 Revised:2018-01-25 Online:2018-01-28 Published:2018-01-28
  • Contact: Hongyan LIU;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.L1624026, No.41730854;Research Project on the Development Strategy of Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.2016-DX-C-02


Plant trait biogeography is an emerging field in plant geography and it is about the geographical distribution of plant traits. At present, there are three hotspots in plant trait research, including performance of traits at multiple levels, trade-offs among traits and the relationship between trait diversity (functional diversity) and ecosystem functioning. Important traits include, for example, specific leaf area, leaf dry matter content, leaf nitrogen concentration, seed mass, plant height and stem density. Traits are measured with individual plants and can be scaled up to the community level (community weighted means and trait diversity). Trade-offs contain not only the leaf economics spectrum, but also relationships between traits and the environment. The development of global trait database largely enhances the progress of plant trait biogeography. Mapping plant traits mainly relies on the global database and spatial statistical modeling techniques, but a new method using combined laser scanning and imaging spectroscopy has been developed recently to map regional patterns of plant trait diversity. Spatial pattern analysis is an important part of plant trait biogeography. It helps to explain the distribution of plants, plant adaptability and patterns of community assembly, and then provides evidence to predict how global climate changes would influence plants. By examining plant traits instead of species, the physiological mechanisms behind plant adaptability and distribution can be better explained. Therefore, replacing species with plant traits in global vegetation models would bring new opportunities and challenges for global carbon cycle models and land surface models under global climate changes.

Key words: plant traits, trait diversity, trait database, spatial pattern analysis