Global gradients in intraspecific variation in vegetative and floral traits are partially associated with climate and species richness

Jonas Kuppler, Cécile H. Albert, Gregory M. Ames, William Scott Armbruster, Gerhard Boenisch, Florian C. Boucher, Diane R. Campbell, Liedson T. Carneiro, Eduardo Chacón-Madrigal, Brian J. Enquist, Carlos R. Fonseca, José M. Gómez, Antoine Guisan, Pedro Higuchi, Dirk N. Karger, Jens Kattge, Michael Kleyer, Nathan J.B. Kraft, Anne Amélie C. Larue-Kontić, Amparo LázaroMartin Lechleitner, Deirdre Loughnan, Vanessa Minden, Ülo Niinemets, Gerhard E. Overbeck, Amy L. Parachnowitsch, Francisco Perfectti, Valério D. Pillar, David Schellenberger Costa, Nina Sletvold, Martina Stang, Isabel Alves-dos-Santos, Helena Streit, Justin Wright, Marcin Zych, Robert R. Junker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Aim: Intraspecific trait variation (ITV) within natural plant communities can be large, influencing local ecological processes and dynamics. Here, we shed light on how ITV in vegetative and floral traits responds to large-scale abiotic and biotic gradients (i.e., climate and species richness). Specifically, we tested whether associations of ITV with temperature, precipitation and species richness were consistent with any of four hypotheses relating to stress tolerance and competition. Furthermore, we estimated the degree of correlation between ITV in vegetative and floral traits and how they vary along the gradients. Location: Global. Time period: 1975–2016. Major taxa studied: Herbaceous and woody plants. Methods: We compiled a dataset of 18,401 measurements of the absolute extent of ITV (measured as the coefficient of variation) in nine vegetative and seven floral traits from 2,822 herbaceous and woody species at 2,372 locations. Results: Large-scale associations between ITV and climate were trait specific and more prominent for vegetative traits, especially leaf morphology, than for floral traits. The ITV showed pronounced associations with climate, with lower ITV values in colder areas and higher values in drier areas. The associations of ITV with species richness were inconsistent across traits. Species-specific associations across gradients were often idiosyncratic, and covariation in ITV was weaker between vegetative and floral traits than within the two trait groups. Main conclusions: Our results show that, depending on the traits considered, ITV either increased or decreased with climate stress and species richness, suggesting that both factors can constrain or enhance ITV, which might foster plant-population persistence in stressful conditions. Given the species-specific responses and covariation in ITV, associations can be hard to predict for traits and species not yet studied. We conclude that consideration of ITV can improve our understanding of how plants cope with stressful conditions and environmental change across spatial and biological scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)992-1007
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • community ecology
  • flower trait
  • functional diversity
  • functional trait
  • leaf trait
  • macroecology
  • precipitation gradient
  • temperature gradient
  • within-species variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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