Functional biogeography of Neotropical moist forests: trait–climate relationships and assembly patterns of tree communities

Bruno X. Pinho*, Marcelo Tabarelli, Cajo J. F. ter Braak, S. Joseph Wright, Víctor Arroyo-Rodríguez, Maíra Benchimol, Bettina M. J. Engelbrecht, Simon Pierce, Peter Hietz, Bráulio A. Santos, Carlos A. Peres, Sandra C. Müller, Ian J. Wright, Frans Bongers, Madelon Lohbeck, Ülo Niinemets, Martijn Slot, Steven Jansen, Davi Jamelli, Renato A. F. de LimaNathan Swenson, Richard Condit, Jos Barlow, Ferry Slik, Manuel A. Hernández-Ruedas, Gabriel Mendes, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Nigel Pitman, Nathan Kraft, Nancy Garwood, Juan Ernesto Guevara Andino, Deborah Faria, Eduardo Chacón-Madrigal, Eduardo Mariano-Neto, Valdecir Júnior, Jens Kattge, Felipe P. L. Melo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Here we examine the functional profile of regional tree species pools across the latitudinal distribution of Neotropical moist forests, and test trait–climate relationships among local communities. We expected opportunistic strategies (acquisitive traits, small seeds) to be overrepresented in species pools further from the equator, but also in terms of abundance in local communities in currently wetter, warmer and more seasonal climates. Location: Neotropics. Time period: Recent. Major taxa studied: Trees. Methods: We obtained abundance data from 471 plots across nine Neotropical regions, including c. 100,000 trees of 3,417 species, in addition to six functional traits. We compared occurrence-based trait distributions among regional species pools, and evaluated single trait–climate relationships across local communities using community abundance-weighted means (CWMs). Multivariate trait–climate relationships were assessed by a double-constrained correspondence analysis that tests both how CWMs relate to climate and how species distributions, parameterized by niche centroids in climate space, relate to their traits. Results: Regional species pools were undistinguished in functional terms, but opportunistic strategies dominated local communities further from the equator, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. Climate explained up to 57% of the variation in CWM traits, with increasing prevalence of lower-statured, light-wooded and softer-leaved species bearing smaller seeds in more seasonal, wetter and warmer climates. Species distributions were significantly but weakly related to functional traits. Main conclusions: Neotropical moist forest regions share similar sets of functional strategies, from which local assembly processes, driven by current climatic conditions, select for species with different functional strategies. We can thus expect functional responses to climate change driven by changes in relative abundances of species already present regionally. Particularly, equatorial forests holding the most conservative traits and large seeds are likely to experience the most severe changes if climate change triggers the proliferation of opportunistic tree species.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Early online date24 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was carried out with the financial support of the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nivel Superior – Brasil (CAPES) – Finance code 001; the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico – CNPq (grant 403770/2012‐2), and a Newton Fund Institutional Partnership Award between the University of East Anglia and Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Brazil. BXP was funded by a PhD scholarship from CNPq (140260/2015‐3). BXP collected functional data in the Mexican regions with the financial support of the Catedra José Sarukhán and the Centro del Cambio Global y la Sustentabilidad en el Sureste. BXP finished this study with the support of a postdoctoral fellowship from Fundação de Amparo à Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco (FACEPE). FPLM, MT and BAS thank CNPq for productivity grants.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • climate change
  • climate seasonality
  • community assembly
  • functional composition
  • functional traits
  • latitude
  • precipitation
  • species pool
  • temperature


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