Climatic and evolutionary contexts are required to infer plant life history strategies from functional traits at a global scale

Ruth Kelly*, Kevin Healy, Madhur Anand, Maude E.A. Baudraz, Michael Bahn, Bruno E.L. Cerabolini, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen, John M. Dwyer, Andrew L. Jackson, Jens Kattge, Ülo Niinemets, Josep Penuelas, Simon Pierce, Roberto Salguero-Gómez, Yvonne M. Buckley

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Life history strategies are fundamental to the ecology and evolution of organisms and are important for understanding extinction risk and responses to global change. Using global datasets and a multiple response modelling framework we show that trait-climate interactions are associated with life history strategies for a diverse range of plant species at the global scale. Our modelling framework informs our understanding of trade-offs and positive correlations between elements of life history after accounting for environmental context and evolutionary and trait-based constraints. Interactions between plant traits and climatic context were needed to explain variation in age at maturity, distribution of mortality across the lifespan and generation times of species. Mean age at maturity and the distribution of mortality across plants’ lifespan were under evolutionary constraints. These findings provide empirical support for the theoretical expectation that climatic context is key to understanding trait to life history relationships globally.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)970-983
    Number of pages14
    JournalEcology Letters
    Issue number5
    Early online date27 Feb 2021
    Publication statusPublished - May 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    RK was supported by the Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellowship scheme, Project ID GOIPD/2016/324. The Irish Research Council Laureate Awards 2017/2018 funded YMB IRCLA/2017/60 and ALJ IRCLA/2017/186. JP acknowledges support from the European Research Council Synergy grant no. ERC-2013-SyG 610028-IMBALANCE-P. The authors thank Iain Stott and Owen Jones at the University of Southern Denmark, and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research for additional support with the COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database, the coordinators of the TRY and BIEN databases, and to the following scientists who contributed data through these networks Christopher Baraloto, Benjamin Blonder, Bradley Butterfield, Giandiego Campetella, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Dylan Craven, Matteo Dainese, Franciska de Vries, John Dickie, Fernando Fernandez-Mendez, Bryan Finegan, Alastair Fitter, Gregoire Freschet, Sophie Gachet, Eric Garnier, Walton Green, Nicholas Gross, Bradford Hawkins, Thomas Hickler, Steve Higgins, Robert Jackson, Steven Jansen, Ingolf K?hn, Don Kirkup, Michael Kleyer, Eric Lamb, Vojtech Lanta, Jon Lloyd, Maurizio Mencuccini, Julie Messier, Ruben Milla, Marco Moretti, Jenny Ordonez, Wim Ozinga, Juli Pausas, Bego?a Peco, Jennifer Powers, Charles Price, Peter Reich, Christine Roemermann, Brody Sandel, Brandon Schamp, Satomi Shiodera, Bill Shipley, Marko Spasojevic, Emily Swaine, Evan Weiher, Christian Wirth, Ian Wright and Joseph S. Wright. Thanks to Tiffany Knight and Jean H. Burns for advice on phylogenies at the iDiv sAPROPOS workshop, and Anne D. Bjorkman and Isla Myers and members of the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) for their expertise on tundra species. The authors thank the members of the British Ecological Society Macroecology Special Interest Group for helpful conversations and feedback. Additionally, the authors thank three anonymous reviewers whose insightful and constructive feedback was very helpful.

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2021 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

    Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


    • Botany
    • climate
    • comparative demography
    • ecological strategies
    • ecology
    • evolution
    • lifespan
    • matrix population model
    • multivariate modelling
    • population dynamics


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