Articles | Volume 8, issue 5
Research article
24 May 2011
Research article |  | 24 May 2011

The role of plant functional trade-offs for biodiversity changes and biome shifts under scenarios of global climatic change

B. Reu, S. Zaehle, R. Proulx, K. Bohn, A. Kleidon, R. Pavlick, and S. Schmidtlein

Abstract. The global geographic distribution of biodiversity and biomes is determined by species-specific physiological tolerances to climatic constraints. Current vegetation models employ empirical bioclimatic relationships to predict present-day vegetation patterns and to forecast biodiversity changes and biome shifts under climatic change. In this paper, we consider trade-offs in plant functioning and their responses under climatic changes to forecast and explain changes in plant functional richness and shifts in biome geographic distributions.

The Jena Diversity model (JeDi) simulates plant survival according to essential plant functional trade-offs, including ecophysiological processes such as water uptake, photosynthesis, allocation, reproduction and phenology. We use JeDi to quantify changes in plant functional richness and biome shifts between present-day and a range of possible future climates from two SRES emission scenarios (A2 and B1) and seven global climate models using metrics of plant functional richness and functional identity.

Our results show (i) a significant loss of plant functional richness in the tropics, (ii) an increase in plant functional richness at mid and high latitudes, and (iii) a pole-ward shift of biomes. While these results are consistent with the findings of empirical approaches, we are able to explain them in terms of the plant functional trade-offs involved in the allocation, metabolic and reproduction strategies of plants. We conclude that general aspects of plant physiological tolerances can be derived from functional trade-offs, which may provide a useful process- and trait-based alternative to bioclimatic relationships. Such a mechanistic approach may be particularly relevant when addressing vegetation responses to climatic changes that encounter novel combinations of climate parameters that do not exist under contemporary climate.

Final-revised paper