Disentangling coordination among functional traits using an individual-centred model: impact on plant performance at intra- and inter-specific levels

Vincent Maire*, Nicolas Gross, David Hill, Raphaël Martin, Christian Wirth, Ian J. Wright, Jean François Soussana

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background:Plant functional traits co-vary along strategy spectra, thereby defining trade-offs for resource acquisition and utilization amongst other processes. A main objective of plant ecology is to quantify the correlations among traits and ask why some of them are sufficiently closely coordinated to form a single axis of functional specialization. However, due to trait co-variations in nature, it is difficult to propose a mechanistic and causal explanation for the origin of trade-offs among traits observed at both intra- and inter-specific level.Methodology/Principal Findings:Using the Gemini individual-centered model which coordinates physiological and morphological processes, we investigated with 12 grass species the consequences of deliberately decoupling variation of leaf traits (specific leaf area, leaf lifespan) and plant stature (height and tiller number) on plant growth and phenotypic variability. For all species under both high and low N supplies, simulated trait values maximizing plant growth in monocultures matched observed trait values. Moreover, at the intraspecific level, plastic trait responses to N addition predicted by the model were in close agreement with observed trait responses. In a 4D trait space, our modeling approach highlighted that the unique trait combination maximizing plant growth under a given environmental condition was determined by a coordination of leaf, root and whole plant processes that tended to co-limit the acquisition and use of carbon and of nitrogen.Conclusion/Significance:Our study provides a mechanistic explanation for the origin of trade-offs between plant functional traits and further predicts plasticity in plant traits in response to environmental changes. In a multidimensional trait space, regions occupied by current plant species can therefore be viewed as adaptive corridors where trait combinations minimize allometric and physiological constraints from the organ to the whole plant levels. The regions outside this corridor are empty because of inferior plant performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere77372
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume8
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2013

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Copyright the Author(s) 2013. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

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