The evolution of plant functional variation

Traits, spectra, and strategies

P. B. Reich*, I. J. Wright, J. Cavender-Bares, J. M. Craine, J. Oleksyn, M. Westoby, M. B. Walters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

770 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


Variation in plant functional traits results from evolutionary and environmental drivers that operate at a variety of different scales, which makes it a challenge to differentiate among them. In this article we describe patterns of functional trait variation and trait correlations within and among habitats in relation to several environmental and trade-off axes. We then ask whether such patterns reflect natural selection and can be considered plant strategies. In so doing we highlight evidence that demonstrates that (1) patterns of trait variation across resource and environmental gradients (light, water, nutrients, and temperature) probably reflect adaptation, (2) plant trait variation typically involves multiple-correlated traits that arise because of inevitable trade-offs among traits and across levels of whole-plant integration and that must be understood from a whole-plant perspective, and (3) such adaptation may be globally generalizable for like conditions; i.e., the set of traits (collections of traits in syndromes) of taxa can be considered as "plant strategies".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S143-S164
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
Publication statusPublished - May 2003

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2003 by University of Chicago Press. Originally published in International Journal of Plant Sciences, Volume 164, Suppl. 3, S143-164.


  • Adaptation
  • Fitness
  • Functional groups
  • Plant traits
  • Selection

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The evolution of plant functional variation: Traits, spectra, and strategies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Reich, P. B., Wright, I. J., Cavender-Bares, J., Craine, J. M., Oleksyn, J., Westoby, M., & Walters, M. B. (2003). The evolution of plant functional variation: Traits, spectra, and strategies. International Journal of Plant Sciences, 164(SUPPL. 3), S143-S164.