Impacts of trait variation through observed trait-climate relationships on performance of an Earth system model: A conceptual analysis

L. M. Verheijen*, V. Brovkin, R. Aerts, G. Bönisch, J. H C Cornelissen, J. Kattge, P. B. Reich, I. J. Wright, P. M. Van Bodegom

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)
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In many current dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs), including those incorporated into Earth system models (ESMs), terrestrial vegetation is represented by a small number of plant functional types (PFTs), each with fixed properties irrespective of their predicted occurrence. This contrasts with natural vegetation, in which many plant traits vary systematically along geographic and environmental gradients. In the JSBACH DGVM, which is part of the MPI-ESM, we allowed three traits (specific leaf area (SLA), maximum carboxylation rate at 25 C (Vcmax25) and maximum electron transport rate at 25 C (Jmax25)) to vary within PFTs via trait-climate relationships based on a large trait database. The iR/i2adjusted of these relationships were up to 0.83 and 0.71 for Vcmax25 and Jmax25, respectively. For SLA, more variance remained unexplained, with a maximum iR/i2adjusted of 0.40. Compared to the default simulation, allowing trait variation within PFTs resulted in gross primary productivity differences of up to 50% in the tropics, in 35% different dominant vegetation cover, and a closer match with a natural vegetation map. The discrepancy between default trait values and natural trait variation, combined with the substantial changes in simulated vegetation properties, together emphasize that incorporating climate-driven trait variation, calibrated on observational data and based on ecological concepts, allows more variation in vegetation responses in DGVMs and as such is likely to enable more reliable projections in unknown climates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5497-5515
Number of pages19
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2013. Originally published in Biogeosciences, 10, 5497-5515, doi:10.5194/bg-10-5497-2013, 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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