Plant morphometric traits and climate gradients in northern China: A meta-analysis using quadrat and flora data

Ting Ting Meng*, Jian Ni, Sandy P. Harrison

*Corresponding author for this work

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    27 Citations (Scopus)
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    Background and Aims The collection of field data on plant traits is time consuming and this makes it difficult to examine changing patterns of traits along large-scale climate gradients. The present study tests whether trait information derived from regional floras can be used in conjunction with pre-existing quadrat data on species presence to derive meaningful relationships between specific morphometric traits and climate. Methods Quadrat records were obtained for 867 species in 404 sites from northern China (38-49°N, 82-132°E) together with information on the presence/absence of Key traits from floras. Bioclimate parameters for each site were calculated using the BIOME3 model. Principal component analysis and correlation analysis were conducted to determine the most important climate factors. The Akaike Information Criterion was used to select the best relationship between each trait and climate. Canonical correspondence analysis was used to explore the relationships between climate and trait occurrence. Key Results The changing abundance of life form, leaf type, phenology, photosynthetic pathway, leaf size and several other morphometric traits are determined by gradients in plant-available moisture (as measured by the ratio of actual to potential evapotranspiration: α), growing-season temperature (as measured by growing degree-days on a 0° base: GDD0) or a combination of these. Different plant functional types (PFTs, as defined by life form, leaf type and phenology) reach maximum abundance in distinct areas of this climate space: for example, evergreen trees occur in the coldest, wettest environments (GDD 0 < 2500 °Cd, α > 0·38), and deciduous scale-leaved trees occur in drier, warmer environments than deciduous broad-leaved trees. Most leaf-level traits show similar relationships with climate independently of PFT: for example, leaf size in all PFTs increases as the environment becomes wetter and cooler. However, some traits (e.g. petiole length) display different relationships with climate in different PFTs. Conclusions Based on presence/absence species data and flora-based trait assignments, the present study demonstrates ecologically plausible trends in the occurrence of Key plant traits along climate gradients in northern China. Life form, leaf type, phenology, photosynthetic pathway, leaf size and other Key traits reflect climate. The success of these analyses opens the possibility of using quadrat- and flora-based trait analyses to examine climate-trait relationships in other regions of the world.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1217-1229
    Number of pages13
    JournalAnnals of Botany
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


    • Akaike Information Criterion
    • Aridity
    • Climate gradient
    • Functional types
    • Northern China
    • Plant life form
    • Plant morphometric traits


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