From plant functional types to plant functional traits

A new paradigm in modelling global vegetation dynamics

Yanzheng Yang, Qiuan Zhu, Changhui Peng*, Han Wang, Huai Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Citations (Scopus)


Dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs) typically track the material and energy cycles in ecosystems with finite plant functional types (PFTs). Increasingly, the community ecology and modelling studies recognize that current PFT scheme is not sufficient for simulating ecological processes. Recent advances in the study of plant functional traits (FTs) in community ecology provide a novel and feasible approach for the improvement of PFT-based DGVMs. This paper reviews the development of current DGVMs over recent decades. After characterizing the advantages and disadvantages of the PFT-based scheme, it summarizes trait-based theories and discusses the possibility of incorporating FTs into DGVMs. More importantly, this paper summarizes three strategies for constructing next-generation DGVMs with FTs. Finally, the method’s limitations, current challenges and future research directions for FT theory are discussed for FT theory. We strongly recommend the inclusion of several FTs, namely specific leaf area (SLA), leaf nitrogen content (LNC), carbon isotope composition of leaves (Leaf δ13C), the ratio between leaf-internal and ambient mole fractions of CO2 (Leaf Ci/Ca), seed mass and plant height. These are identified as the most important in constructing DGVMs based on FTs, which are also recognized as important ecological strategies for plants. The integration of FTs into dynamic vegetation models is a critical step towards improving the results of DGVM simulations; communication and cooperation among ecologists and modellers is equally important for the development of the next generation of DGVMs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)514-535
Number of pages22
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 10 Aug 2015


  • climate change
  • DGVMs
  • ecosystem function
  • environmental filters
  • PFTs-traits hybrid model
  • plant functional traits (FTs)
  • plant functional types (PFTs)

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