Plant traits alone are poor predictors of ecosystem properties and long-term ecosystem functioning

van der Plas, Fons; Schroeder-Georgi, Thomas; Weigelt, Alexandra; Barry, Kathryn; Meyer, Sebastian; Alzate, Adriana; Barnard, Romain L.; Buchmann, Nina; de Kroon, Hans; Ebeling, Anne; Eisenhauer, Nico; Engels, Christof; Fischer, Markus; Gleixner, Gerd; Hildebrandt, Anke; Koller-France, Eva; Leimer, Sophia; Milcu, Alexandru; Mommer, Liesje; Niklaus, Pascal A.; ... (2020). Plant traits alone are poor predictors of ecosystem properties and long-term ecosystem functioning. Nature ecology & evolution, 4(12), pp. 1602-1611. Nature Publishing Group 10.1038/s41559-020-01316-9

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Earth is home to over 350,000 vascular plant species that differ in their traits in innumerable ways. A key challenge is to predict how natural or anthropogenically driven changes in the identity, abundance and diversity of co-occurring plant species drive important ecosystem-level properties such as biomass production or carbon storage. Here, we analyse the extent to which 42 different ecosystem properties can be predicted by 41 plant traits in 78 experimentally manipulated grassland plots over 10 years. Despite the unprecedented number of traits analysed, the average percentage of variation in ecosystem properties jointly explained was only moderate (32.6%) within individual years, and even much lower (12.7%) across years. Most other studies linking ecosystem properties to plant traits analysed no more than six traits and, when including only six traits in our analysis, the average percentage of variation explained in across-year levels of ecosystem properties dropped to 4.8%. Furthermore, we found on average only 12.2% overlap in significant predictors among ecosystem properties, indicating that a small set of key traits able to explain multiple ecosystem properties does not exist. Our results therefore suggest that there are specific limits to the extent to which traits per se can predict the long-term functional consequences of biodiversity change, so that data on additional drivers, such as interacting abiotic factors, may be required to improve predictions of ecosystem property levels.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)

Division/Institute:

08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Fischer, Markus

Subjects:

500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)

ISSN:

2397-334X

Publisher:

Nature Publishing Group

Language:

English

Submitter:

Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

04 Nov 2020 10:50

Last Modified:

04 Dec 2020 01:33

Publisher DOI:

10.1038/s41559-020-01316-9

PubMed ID:

33020598

BORIS DOI:

10.7892/boris.147229

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/147229

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