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Linking seed size and number to trait syndromes in trees

March 7, 2023


Our understanding of the mechanisms that maintain forest diversity under changing climate can benefit from knowledge about traits that are closely linked to fitness. We tested whether the link between traits and seed number and seed size is consistent with two hypotheses, termed the leaf economics spectrum and the plant size syndrome, or whether reproduction represents an independent dimension related to a seed size–seed number trade-off.


Most of the data come from Europe, North and Central America and East Asia. A minority of the data come from South America, Africa and Australia.

Time period


Major taxa studied



We gathered 12 million observations of the number of seeds produced in 784 tree species. We estimated the number of seeds produced by individual trees and scaled it up to the species level. Next, we used principal components analysis and generalized joint attribute modelling (GJAM) to map seed number and size on the tree traits spectrum.


Incorporating seed size and number into trait analysis while controlling for environment and phylogeny with GJAM exposes relationships in trees that might otherwise remain hidden. Production of the large total biomass of seeds [product of seed number and seed size; hereafter, species seed productivity (SSP)] is associated with high leaf area, low foliar nitrogen, low specific leaf area (SLA) and dense wood. Production of high seed numbers is associated with small seeds produced by nutrient-demanding species with softwood, small leaves and high SLA. Trait covariation is consistent with opposing strategies: one fast-growing, early successional, with high dispersal, and the other slow-growing, stress-tolerant, that recruit in shaded conditions.

Main conclusions

Earth system models currently assume that reproductive allocation is indifferent among plant functional types. Easily measurable seed size is a strong predictor of the seed number and species seed productivity. The connection of SSP with the functional traits can form the first basis of improved fecundity prediction across global forests.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2023
Title Linking seed size and number to trait syndromes in trees
DOI 10.1111/geb.13652
Authors Michal Bogdziewicz, Marie-Claire Aravena Acuña, Robert A. Andrus, Davide Ascoli, Yves Bergeron, Daniel Brveiller, Thomas Boivin, Raul Bonal, Thomas Caignard, Maxime Cailleret, Rafael Calama, Sergio Donoso Calderon, J. Julio Camarero, Chia-Hao Chang-Yang, Jerome Chave, Francesco Chianucci, Natalie L. Cleavitt, Benoit Courbaud, Andrea Cutini, Thomas Curt, Adrian Das, Hendrik Davi, Nicolas Delpiere, Sylvain Delzon, Michael Dietze, Laurent Dormont, William Farfan-Rios, Catherine A. Gehring, Gregory S. Gilbert, Georg Gratzer, Cathryn H. Greenberg, Arthur Guignabert, Qinfeng Guo, Andrew Hacket-Pain, Arndt Hampe, Qingmin Han, Kazuhiko Hoshizaki, Ines Ibanez, Jill F. Johnstone, Valentin Journé, Thomas Kitzberger, Johannes M.H. Knops, Georges Kunstler, Richard Kobe, Jonathan G.A. Lageard, Jalene M. LaMontagne, Mateusz Ledwon, Theodor Leininger, Jean-Marc Limousin, James A. Lutz, Diana Macias, Anders Marell, Eliot J.B. McIntire, Emily V Moran, Renzo Motta, Jonathan A. Myers, Thomas A. Nagel, Shoji Naoe, Kyotaro Noguchi, Michio Oguro, Hiroko Kurokawa, Jean-Marc Ourcival, Robert Parmenter, Ignacio M. Perez-Ramos, Lukasz Piechnik, Tomasz Podgórski, John Poulsen, Tong Qiu, Miranda D. Redmond, Chantal D. Reid, Kyle C. Rodman, Pavel Šamonil, Jan Holik, C. Lane Scher, Harald Schmidt Van Marle, Barbara Seget, Mitsue Shibata, Shubhi Sharma, Miles Silman, Michael A Steele, Jacob N. Straub, I-Fang Sun, Samantha Sutton, Jennifer J. Swenson, Peter A. Thomas, Maria Uriarte, Giorgio Vacchiano, Thomas T. Veblen, Boyd Wright, S. Joseph Wright, Thomas G. Whitham, Kai Zhu, Jess K. Zimmerman, Magdalna Zywiec, James S. Clark
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Ecology and Biogeography
Index ID 70241204
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center