Contrasting trait responses in plant communities to experimental and geographic variation in precipitation

Brody Sandel, Leah J. Goldstein, Nathan J.B. Kraft, Jordan G. Okie, Michal I. Shuldman, David D. Ackerly, Elsa E. Cleland, Katharine N. Suding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


•Patterns of precipitation are likely to change significantly in the coming century, with important but poorly understood consequences for plant communities. Experimental and correlative studies may provide insight into expected changes, but little research has addressed the degree of concordance between these approaches. •We synthesized results from four experimental water addition studies with a correlative analysis of community changes across a large natural precipitation gradient in the United States. We investigated whether community composition, summarized with plant functional traits, responded similarly to increasing precipitation among studies and sites. •In field experiments, increased precipitation favored species with small seed size, short leaf life span and high leaf nitrogen (N) concentration. However, with increasing precipitation along the natural gradient, community composition shifted towards species with higher mean seed mass, longer leaf life span and lower leaf N concentrations. •The differences in temporal and spatial scale of experimental manipulations and natural gradients may explain these contrasting results. Our results highlight the complexity of responses to climate change, and suggest that transient dynamics may not reflect long-term shifts in functional diversity and community composition. We propose a model of community change that incorporates these differences between short- and long-term responses to climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)565-575
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Experiments
  • Functional ecology
  • Plant communities
  • Plant functional traits
  • Precipitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Contrasting trait responses in plant communities to experimental and geographic variation in precipitation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this