Examining Plant Traits to Discover Strategies of Coexisting Plants

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Plant traits, such as leaf size and rooting depth, can affect plant performance and hence, how plants might respond to environmental change. Plant traits can be integrated, or correlated, with a particular functional plant response, such as how plants use water efficiently. Alternatively, plants can differentiate along multiple trait dimensions. 

University and federal researchers assessed trait integration and differentiation across 57 forest understory plant species in Douglas-fir forests of western Oregon. By measuring whole plant, leaf, stem, and root traits, they discovered that some traits were highly integrated; however, there was no single strategy that differentiated understory plant species. Instead, species differed along three dimensions related to plant size, leaf economics, and architectural constraints. This suggests strategies can be characterized efficiently and effectively by measuring just four common traits: plant height, specific leaf area, leaf size, and seed mass.

Burton, J.I., Perakis, S.S., Brooks, J.R., Puettmann, K.J., 2020, Trait integration and functional differentiation among co-existing plant species: American Journal of Botany, v. 107, no. 4, p. online, https://doi.org/10.1002/ajb2.1451