IIASA researchers have participated in the American Geosciences Union Fall Meeting 2019 presenting research on climate adaptation and impacts on global ecosystems
Background: Tropical plant communities exhibit extraordinary species richness and functional diversity in highly heterogeneous environments. Albeit the fact that such environmental filtering shapes local species composition and associated plant functional traits, it remains elusive to what extend tropical vegetation might be able to acclimate to environmental changes via phenotypic plasticity, which could be a critical determinant affecting the resistance and resilience of tropical vegetation to projected climate change.
Methods: Based on a dataset compiled from 345 individuals and comprising 34 tropical tree species we here investigated the role of phenotypic plasticity versus non-plastic variation among key plant functional traits, i.e. wood density, maximum height, leaf thickness, leaf area, specific leaf area, leaf dry mass, nitrogen and phosphorus content. We hypothesized that trait variation due to plasticity is driven by environmental variability independently of spatial effects due to geographic distance between forest stands, whereas non-plastic variation increases with geographic distance due to adaption of the plant community to the local environment. Based on these hypotheses we partitioned total observed trait variation into phenotypic plasticity and neutral components and quantified respective amount of variation related to environmental filtering and neutral community assembly.
Results: We found that trait variation was strongly related to spatial factors, thus often masking phenotypic plasticity in response to environmental cues. However, respective environmental factors differed among plant functional traits, such that leaf traits varied in association with light regime and soil nutrient content, whereas wood traits were related to topography and soil water content. Our results further suggest that phenotypic plasticity increased with the range size of congeneric tree species, indicating less plasticity within range restricted endemics compared to their widespread congeners.
Conclusions: Differences in phenotypic trait plasticity affect stress tolerance and range size of tropical tree species, therefore endemic species could be especially prone to projected climate change.
Check out the link to the website including a link to the e-poster: https://agu.confex.com/agu/fm19/meetingapp.cgi/Paper/501085