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A global analysis of trait variation and evolution in climbing plants

Journal Article

Gallagher RV; Leishman MR


Journal of Biogeography



Aim: Climbing plants (lianas vines scramblers) are underrepresented in many global datasets that underpin knowledge in functional trait biology important for ecological theory conservation and predicting forest dynamics under global change. To address this omission we tested a set of hypotheses about how the traits of climbers vary with latitude and climate and amongst major biogeographical regions of the world using a comprehensive new global dataset. \r\n\r\nLocation: Global.\r\n\r\nMethods: Data on seed mass leaf size specific leaf area climbing mechanism dispersal mode and growth habit were compiled for 1092 species in 34 countries. For each trait we: (1) quantified the strength of latitudinal gradients using analyses across species and across evolutionary divergences (2) examined underlying relationships between trait variation and climate variables (3) tested for phylogenetic signal in traits (the tendency for closely related species to exhibit similar traits) and (4) compared trait variation and phylogenetic clustering between four major biogeographical regions of the world (Africa the Americas Asia Australasia).\r\nResults We found highly significant relationships between latitude and four traits (growth habit leaf size seed mass and specific leaf area SLA). Leaf size seed mass and SLA also showed significant relationships to mean annual temperature and precipitation. However no relationship was found between dispersal mode and latitude or climbing mechanism and latitude. These results were largely consistent in cross-species and phylogenetic analyses. All traits except seed mass exhibited clear differences between biogeographic regions. SLA and seed mass were the only two traits that did not present a significant phylogenetic signal. Phylogenetic clustering was detected in species from the Americas and Africa indicating that trait conservatism is important in broad biogeographical regions.\r\n\r\nMain conclusions: The functional traits and phylogenetic patterns of climbers differ between biogeographical regions and from other better studied plant growth forms. Species-level trait differences may hold the key to understanding why climbers are increasing in abundance in some regions of the world but not in others.


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