Thirteen thousand species of trees from around the world were divided into ecological groups

(ORDO NEWS) — Biologists from different countries have joined forces to collect data on the important adaptive traits of a fifth of the Earth’s trees – more than 13,000 species.

With the help of their database, they identified eight large groups and noted those features of plants that are especially relevant in a changing climate.

Biodiversity, that is, a huge range of species and life forms, has arisen in the process of evolution and is constantly changing to suit environmental conditions.

She does not remain in debt and also changes all the time, including under the influence of human life and activity, and the latter factor is becoming more and more important.

Therefore, botanists from all over the world have undertaken a large-scale study of the functional traits (functional traits) of trees.

Functional (or ecological-morphological) traits reflect the adaptation strategies of plants and determine how they respond to environmental changes.

Such signs are quite universal, that is, it is convenient to describe them in a variety of plants. In recent years, functional characters have been actively used to study plant communities.

Over 13 thousand species of woody plants from all over the world became the object of the study. They represent more than 2,300 genera – about a fifth of all known trees.

For each, up to 18 functional traits were considered that characterize the leaves and crown as a whole, seeds, bark (including its thickness), wood and root. The result is the largest database of its kind.

“This baseline is based on measurements taken in the field by an entire research community,” said Peter M. van Bodegom of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

“They described the properties of tree species in fields and forests using similar protocols. All this we have placed in a centralized database. Further, statistical analysis was carried out, which made it possible to identify patterns in these signs.

Scientists have turned to principal component analysis (PCA) and cluster analysis, which can easily identify groups in large and very large data.

This made it possible to identify which features of the plant are more often combined with each other and how some of them affect others.

Biologists have identified eight different groups (clusters), each of which corresponds to some specific aspects of the structure or life of the plant.

Some of the obtained groups of trees are quite trivial – for example, the separation of conifers and deciduous.

Other regularities were identified for the first time: for example, the close connection between adaptations to the lighting regime and adaptations to fires and drought. It turned out that some species tolerate fires better than others – including due to the thick bark.

Ecological groups derived from such a large amount of data are of particular importance against the backdrop of climate change.

Indeed, deforestation, droughts and fires are becoming more common, and by better understanding the ecology and diversity of plants, it is easier for us to predict the behavior of their communities.

Especially when it comes to trees that grow for a long time, are larger and greatly change their habitat.


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