Climate and soil determine the distribution of plant traits


Peer-Reviewed Publication

UNIVERSITY OF ZURICH

An international research team succeeded in identifying global factors that explain the diversity of form and function in plants. Led by the University of Zurich, the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena and the University of Leipzig, the researchers collected and analyzed plant data from around the world. For the first time, they showed for characteristics such as plant size, structure, and life span how strongly these are determined by climate and soil properties. Insights derived from this could be crucial to improving Earth system models with regard to the role of plant diversity.

At first glance, the diversity of plant form and function seems difficult to comprehend. However, it can be described in terms of morphological, physiological, and biochemical characteristics. It has been shown previously that traits across species fall into two main categories within which each plant must maintain a balance: first, size and second, economy of metabolism. In a recent study in Nature Ecology and Evolution, a team of researchers has now confirmed for the first time, using a greatly enlarged global dataset for 17 different plant traits, that these two main categories apply to all plants studied worldwide.

In the size category, plants balance height, leaf size, and seed size, among other traits. These traits are also influenced by hydraulic components of water transport in plants. The economics category describes how quickly and effectively the plant gains energy and biomass through photosynthesis, balanced against how long it survives. This category is determined by measurable characteristics such as the structure and composition of the leaves in terms of leaf area, as well as their elemental composition (nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon). The team showed that life strategies of the plant species collected worldwide in the TRY database are well explained by these two main categories.

Characteristics of over 20,000 species analyzed

Plant traits are influenced by a wide variety of external factors, such as climate, soil conditions, and human intervention. It has not yet been possible to determine which factors are decisive at the global level. To answer this question, the research team, led by Julia Joswig at the University of Zurich and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, analyzed the characteristics of over 20,000 species. Information on climate and soil conditions at the location of each plant was included in the analysis.

“Our study clearly demonstrates that plant traits worldwide can be explained by joint effects of climate and soil,” Joswig said, adding, “This suggests that aspects of climate change and soil erosion, both of which occur as a result of land use change, for example, should be researched together.”

Many of the relationships described here were already known from small-scale, local studies. “But the fact that these processes could now be shown globally and their significance quantified is an important milestone,” adds Prof. Miguel Mahecha of the University of Leipzig. “Studies of this kind can guide global Earth system models to represent the complex interaction of climate, soil and biodiversity, which is an important prerequisite for future predictions,” Mahecha adds.

As expected, the study shows how the height of plant species changes along latitudes, due to differences in climate. However, the economic traits of plants do not show this gradient. Similarly, soil quality is only partially affected by climate, so there is a latitude-independent component in information about soil. Joswig and her colleagues show that this soil information is also relevant for the economic traits. Besides climate, soil-forming factors include organisms living in the soil, geology and topography, and of course time. Global change affects climate, organisms, and to some extent topography. Therefore, the study suggests that global risks to plant life should be explored especially in relation to climate change and soil erosion.


JOURNAL

Nature Ecology & Evolution

DOI

10.1038/s41559-021-01616-8 

METHOD OF RESEARCH

Data/statistical analysis

SUBJECT OF RESEARCH

Not applicable

ARTICLE TITLE

Climatic and soil factors explain the two-dimensional spectrum of global plant trait variation

ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE

23-Dec-2021

From EurekAlert!

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Zig Zag Wanderer
December 27, 2021 2:07 pm

“This suggests that aspects of climate change and soil erosion, both of which occur as a result of land use change, for example, should be researched together.”

Obviously they are deluded. The only factor affecting Climate is CO2. The Science is settled!

Joao Martins
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
December 28, 2021 3:31 am

Obviously they are deluded. The only factor affecting Climate is CO2. The Science is settled!

I would rather say, ignorance is settled… and installed in what nowadays passes as “science”…

John Garrett
December 27, 2021 2:10 pm

I’m underwhelmed.

I’d like to thank the authors of this paper for a blinding glimpse of the obvious. If the authors possessed a conscience or any sense of shame, they ought to feel compelled to reimburse whoever funded their research. It was a prodigious waste of time and money.

Last edited 23 days ago by John Garrett
Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  John Garrett
December 27, 2021 4:54 pm

exactly!

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  John Garrett
December 27, 2021 6:36 pm

They had better hurry up and inform the farming community. This will come as earth-plowing news to them. I’m sure they don’t suspect that the types of crops they can grow is dictated by “climate and soil properties.” We live in wonderful times with who knows what will be discovered by scientists! Do you suppose they will find proof that plants also need light to grow?

Academia is in worse shape than I realized! And this isn’t sarcasm.

Last edited 23 days ago by Clyde Spencer
asiaseen
Reply to  John Garrett
December 27, 2021 11:24 pm

The authors must be townies – meat comes from the supermarket and milk from cartons.

Whoever approved the grant for this is similarly badly educated.

Joao Martins
Reply to  asiaseen
December 28, 2021 3:37 am

Whoever approved the grant for this is similarly badly educated.

And whoever has peer-reviewed this is what…? And whoever edited this … thing … and allowed it to be published is what? …

Please, don’t blame only the … naivety … of the authors, there is also a large bunch of co-culprits!…

Joao Martins
Reply to  John Garrett
December 28, 2021 3:34 am

I’d like to thank the authors of this paper for a blinding glimpse of the obvious.

Yes, but…

NOT YET with programs in R programming language and using R packages to perform the calculations… (should I need to add a /s mark?)

Tom Halla
December 27, 2021 2:11 pm

What is growing where is also very determined by history. Australia has plants unknown elsewhere as natives.
There are also so-called invasive species, imports that do better in a new environment than the natives. Eucalyptus grows very well in what had been the southern edge of redwood habitat.

Rob_Dawg
December 27, 2021 2:17 pm

Climate and soil determine the distribution of plant traits
In my field of view in Southern California there are lierally thousands of plants with traits that are flourishing in severe opposition to the local climate.

Katio1505
December 27, 2021 2:20 pm

Climate and soil type govern plant growth. Who knew??

philincalifornia
Reply to  Katio1505
December 27, 2021 2:50 pm

I know. I was disappointed in not seeing Sherlock Holmes on the author list.

Curious George(@moudryj)
Reply to  Katio1505
December 27, 2021 4:33 pm

I wonder how they characterized “climate”. Probably not by USDA plant hardiness zones, this is a European research.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Katio1505
December 27, 2021 4:54 pm

It was unknown until published as a peer review paper!

Rud Istvan
December 27, 2021 2:27 pm

They could have saved a lot of research dollars by just asking some farmers, who have known these basics for thousands of years.

Rich Lambert
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 27, 2021 2:31 pm

The goal is to spend research dollars to bank roll themselves.

G Mawer
Reply to  Rich Lambert
December 27, 2021 2:49 pm

Sad, but becoming another obvious reality.

DMacKenzie
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 27, 2021 2:46 pm

Never ask a farmer anything about plants, soil, livestock, weather, or dogs…. You’ll just end up humiliated by what he has already learnt the hard way…

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  DMacKenzie
December 27, 2021 4:56 pm

same when people talk about forests but never ask a forester

John Bell
December 27, 2021 2:54 pm

This is what happens to your brain on academia.

ATheoK
December 27, 2021 2:56 pm

For the first time, they showed for characteristics such as plant size, structure, and life span how strongly these are determined by climate and soil properties.

Only a doofus that never visited the sequoias; walked amongst the plants in desert settings; visited tundra; stumbled through swamps; investigated Venus fly traps; pitcher plants and sundews; walked amongst the grasses of the Great Plains; sat under pines or acres of oak trees, etc., etc. could write something so stupid.

“analyzed the characteristics of over 20,000 species. Information on climate and soil conditions at the location of each plant was included in the analysis.”

Woo, big number, or so it falsely appears.

Studying orchids, one of the first things learned is that over 40,000 unique species of orchids have been identified with more identified every year.

One wonders just how many plant families were involved in their 20,000 species?

So far, we’ve learned that higher levels of CO₂ enable plants to lessen their numbers of stomata and thus better use water. A fact that definitely affects some of their assumptions.

“An international research team succeeded in identifying global factors that explain the diversity of form and function in plants.”

Perhaps they should wait until they’ve tallied all critical facts from more than 3/4ths of all plant species before jumping to conclusions.
Maybe by then, they’ll have an interstellar plant to consider?

gringojay
December 27, 2021 2:59 pm

From the original report conclusion, a synopsis of quotations: “…we cannot discard the possibility that additional traits may add relevant axes of trait variation…trait-environment correlations identified in our study should not be confounded with causality…individual plants and their trait syndromes are considered to be viable only within specific environmental conditions…”

Original Post contains what reads like a press release – eureka, plant traits correlate to plant diversity & function, or plant size & metabolism! The blurb, for reasons of convenience, omits research teams disclaimers I highlight in preceding paragraph directly above.

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  gringojay
December 27, 2021 3:46 pm

I noticed that also,caveats don’t show up adequately in abstract. Interesting compilation, but their references, over 300, are mostly very new. I had lots of botany, including plant ecology, and would simply ask how much this actually adds as my old texts are buried.

““Extreme outliers, for instance towering trees such as the Californian Sequoia (Sequoiadendron sempervirens), may still exist far away from the equator, where precipitation is sufficiently high20 but their influence is outweighed in our approach by an increasing fraction of small-statured herbaceous species from tropical to temperate and boreal regions…… For example, our study does not include carbon fixation rates39 or fire adaptation traits40, nor does it include any root traits—representing an essential gap to be filled at the global scale41. “

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  H. D. Hoese
December 27, 2021 6:42 pm

I’m glad to hear that the science isn’t settled and there is lots more research to be performed — IF the grant money is available!

gringojay
Reply to  gringojay
December 27, 2021 5:45 pm

“Size variation correlates well with latitude gradient” according to the report. Which contends latitude’s impact is a function of water and energy (solar irradiation) being limiting factors on plant size.

I think that overlooks the role of dynamics relative to the plant phyto-hormone auxin. At higher latitudes cold provokes plants attempts to have cold tolerance and the plant will produce more flavonoids.

As flavenoid levels rise auxin phyto-hormone levels decrease. Among other things which this instigates is a decrease in the plant phyto-hormone giberrellin; conversely increasing auxin levels would increase the activity of gibberellin bio-synthesis (makes) genes.

Gibberellin phyto-hormone levels (there are over 100 known types of gibberellin in different context) locally must not be high when a stem cell niche (meri-stem) is initiating activation of new organized (differentiated) cells. However, once the meri-stem has become activated pursuant to putting forth new growth (tissue) then locally increased gibberellin levels are a requirement for the new tissue to grow bigger.

It is the dynamic shifting ratios of auxin with gibberellin in time frames that maintain plant tissue development. Which includes regulating the synthesis of proteins in a plant cell cytoplasm that are integral to cell elongation.

The cited author’s state “leaf economics” is a function of “leaf persistence against plant growth potential”; such that it “depends” on soil/nutrients/precipitation. In plants both simple and compound leaves are under the sway of auxin; depressing auxin transport is what reduces the development of side (lateral) leaflets.

Auxin is has (usually) 8 outward (efflux) carriers (“PIN”) serving various functions; there are 23 auxin response factors and 29 auxin repressor genes. A lot of variation in different types of growth habit among different kinds of plants, and even among the same geno-type plant strain (ex: regional food crop land-races) is a factor auxin subtleties – there is something like a dose dependent response when plants experience a gradient of auxin movement & auxin gradients are controlled by 2 families of transcription regulators.

gringojay
Reply to  gringojay
December 27, 2021 7:20 pm

(continuation):
The cited report discusses “leaf economics” as a balance between leaves hanging in there (“persistance”) against that plant’s growth potential it might use energy for. The authors claim this is “depends” on soil properties/nutrients and precipitation.

Natural plant (“IAA”) auxin phyto-hormone is quite naturally internally degraded by an enzyme (“IAA oxid-ase”). In young tissue like leaf cells that are still dividing (classified as “juvenile”) the level of auxin degrading IAA oxid-ase is naturally low (likewise in a stem cell niche meri-stem); while in cells that are no longer dividing (“mature/senescent”) the level of auxin degrading IAA oxid-ase is elevated.

Auxin is molecularly a phenol; and I’ll add that plants grown under elevated CO2 have relatively greater phenol content. Many other types of phenols (which a plant might make in addition to auxin) will usually decrease the level of auxin degrading IAA oxid-ase and thereby make for higher plant natural IAA auxin levels; however there are certain phenols that actually allow IAA oxid-ase enzymes avoid normal decommissioning resulting in higher levels of auxin degradation.

Author’s “growth potential” is tied to auxin because it is the rate of growth which, in part, establishes the rate at which plants form phenols. The other factor determining phenol making is the synergistic ratio of auxin to cytokinin (another phyto-hormone).

As regards cited report’s focus on nutrients and nitrogen in plants I’ll describe another way a specific plant’s auxin characteristics are relevant. Outdoor ground has nitrogen in both NO3- nitrate nitrogen and NH4+ ammonium nitrogen forms.

Among auxin’s role it is involved in cell division and generating new organized groups of cells (ex:making a leaf) and, in these contexts, it is the ratio of NO3- to NH4+ which the plant is internally processing which facilitates the involved auxin’s response. In other words, the ratio of those forms of nitrogen is what impulses not only cell receptivity to auxin, but cellular uptake of auxin and the rate auxin is metabolized.

Author’s discuss soil & of course assorted nutrients are acquired from soil in a dynamic which involves pH. Living plant cells themselves also have pH related aspects, inside and outside.

Auxin is what modifies internal and external pH; which happens because auxin is what cause “H+” to be put out of a cell. If a “+” ion like potassium K+ comes in to replace that H+ the plant gains turgor. When it is a root putting out H+ ions the soil pH goes down, which favors certain other nutrients.

The proportionate % of auxin can contribute to close by roots’ low soil pH and at the same time sustain a relatively higher plant sap pH. In dicotyledon plants natural IAA auxin levels shift around daily in terms of where it’s most concentrated.

During daytime periods of very high sun photon irradiance plant growth is known to be impaired – which is, in part, because strong light (including UV) degrades natural IAA auxin. And one of the ways untimely high temperature causes pollen failure involves provocation of untimely low auxin.

LKMiller
December 27, 2021 3:31 pm

In North America, trees somehow didn’t get the memo

The tallest trees on the continent, and indeed much of the world, grow in a region where there is a clear demarcation between wet and dry seasons. The problem is, the wet season comes in winter, when the trees aren’t growing. So we have in no particular order, Douglas-fir, Ponderosa pine, giant sequoia, and western white pine that easily surpass 200 feet in height in places where hardly a drop of rain falls from July 1 to the end of September.

Contrast that to the most dominant conifer on the east side of the continent – loblolly pine. Despite almost always having year round moisture and LONG growing season, loblolly pines above 120 ft in height are rare. Why? One explanation might be hurricanes.

At any rate, the study may have studied 20,000 plants, but sometimes trees don’t play by the rules.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  LKMiller
December 27, 2021 4:59 pm

“loblolly pines above 120 ft in height are rare. Why?”

they’ve all been cut?

Rick C
December 27, 2021 3:34 pm

So next on their list of research projects – the discovery of fire and reinvention of the wheel? Do their universities not have botany or agriculture departments? They might have saved some time by looking up Koppen climate classifications. After all “climate” is defined by what plants will grow where. I would suspect that all the “data” they assembled in this research can readily be found in textbooks.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Rick C
December 27, 2021 6:52 pm

I’m reminded of the meetings of the survivors of the B Ark trying to re-invent the wheel and other fundamental machines. There is the classic line about the hexagonal prototype of the wheel, with the axle parallel to the plane of the wheel, and the sectors of the hexagon painted different colors. After Arthur Dent criticizes the ‘graduate marketing manager,’ she takes umbrage, puts her hands on her hips and says, “Well if you’re so smart, what color would you paint it?”

I think these ‘researchers’ have just earned themselves free passage on the next B Ark launch.

Pflashgordon
December 27, 2021 3:39 pm

Duh! I love this prideful “for the first time” (in the last millisecond). Millions of soil scientists, ag meteorologists, crop scientists, farmer, ranchers, horticulturalists, foresters, gardeners, landscapers, etc. never knew this before? Thank you for this groundbreaking revelation, Professor Obvious.

Mike Dubrasich
December 27, 2021 4:39 pm

For what it’s worth back, in the 1970’s in forestry school we were taught the State Factor Theory ginned up by systematic systemicists:

V = f(Cl, S, P, T, G, Hi, and Hu)

where V is vegetation, Cl is climate (macro and micro), S is soil, P is parent material of the soil, T is topography, G is germinules (plant seeds that have access or vectors into a locale), Hi is history including catastrophes such as fire, ice, and volcanoes, and Hu is humans.

It’s of note that the last, humans and our historical environmental influences, are most often overlooked. Tens of thousands of years of human impacts including anthropogenic fire and transport of plants (Columbian exchange, etc.) have had enormous effects on what grows where.

Jirka
Reply to  Mike Dubrasich
December 28, 2021 8:44 am

I bet you had a class on habitat typing as well.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Jirka
December 28, 2021 10:05 am

No, I didn’t, but that craze took off about the same time. Nothing dumber, at least the way it’s done by plant ecologists. Whatever plant is there, that’s the type, and two feet over if it’s missing, well, that’s another type. Snapshot in time through a microscope. But it keeps otherwise useless drones employed by useless government agencies. A rotating circle of clowns.

Mike
December 27, 2021 6:02 pm

Climate and soil?? Really!! Well I never would have thought!
What the f**k else is there?
I seriously cannot believe that these morons claim they have discovered this for the first time!
I mean how isolated have these people become? No wonder we have a damn climate crisis!!!! What a complete and utter waste of time and money. All they had to do was to grow a banana and a Himalayan poppy or maybe some rice to discover this amazing fact.

Last edited 23 days ago by Mike
WXcycles
Reply to  Mike
December 27, 2021 10:07 pm

Come on, give ’em a break, they’re obviously from the arts ‘discipline’.

Pat from kerbob
December 27, 2021 7:25 pm

Just a guess, but this paper seems to exist merely to intone “climate change”.

It’s like junior high assignment.

Thomas Gasloli
December 27, 2021 7:26 pm

They are likely to follow this with a grant request to fund an international study to determine whether water really is wet.💦

WXcycles
December 27, 2021 10:00 pm

Anyone who ever looked at a laterite knew that already.

Joao Martins
December 28, 2021 3:29 am

Many of the relationships described here were already known from small-scale, local studies. “But the fact that these processes could now be shown globally and their significance quantified is an important milestone,” adds Prof. ... ”

They are ignoring, “rediscovering” and renaming Plant Geography and Plant Sociology (a problematic name, but it was adopted for many years), research fields with immense scientific literature, most of it of very good quality, published since at least the 1930s…

Last edited 22 days ago by Joao Martins
Jirka
Reply to  Joao Martins
December 28, 2021 8:48 am

They are not ignoring it. They are unaware of it.

Bill Everett
Reply to  Jirka
December 28, 2021 9:37 am

I would like to see somebody, or somebodies, notice that OCO-2 data mapping has shown a correlation between concentrations of broadleaf vegetation and higher CO2 levels.

Joao Martins
Reply to  Jirka
December 28, 2021 12:12 pm

My mistake, you are right. Thank you for your precision.

Last edited 22 days ago by Joao Martins
Mickey Reno
December 28, 2021 10:58 am

If factors influencing plant growth are not yet firmly established, that means we can ignore 100% of dendro-climatology, right?

Thank god for that.

Michael Carter
December 28, 2021 3:51 pm

“For the first time, they showed for characteristics such as plant size, structure, and life span how strongly these are determined by climate and soil properties.”

Wow – who would have believed this? We are so lucky: “For the first time”

C K Fay
December 28, 2021 7:05 pm

Climate and soil determine the distribution of plant traits. Fancy that!

Bill Everett
Reply to  C K Fay
December 31, 2021 8:47 am

It would be more important to use data mapping from OCO-2 to determine why that mapping seems to indicate that broadleaf vegetation, especially broadleaf forests, are associated with elevated CO2 levels. Might not increasing vegetation levels caused by global warming be the cause of increasing CO2 levels?

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