Globally important plant functional traits for coping with climate change

Nicola Kühn, Carolina Tovar, Julia Carretero, Vigdis Vandvik, Brian J. Enquist, Kathy J. Willis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The last decade has seen a proliferation of studies that use plant functional traits to assess how plants respond to climate change. However, it remains unclear whether there is a global set of traits that can predict plants’ ability to cope or even thrive when exposed to varying manifestations of climate change. We conducted a systematic global review which identified 148 studies to assess whether there is a set of common traits across biomes that best predict positive plant responses in performance and fitness, to multiple climate changes and associated environmental changes. Eight key traits appear to best predict positive plant responses to multiple climate/environmental changes across biomes: lower or higher specific leaf area (SLA), lower or higher plant height, greater water-use efficiency (WUE), greater resprouting ability, lower relative growth rate, greater clonality/bud banks/below-ground storage, higher wood density, and greater rooting depth. Trait attributes associated with positive responses appear relatively consistent within biomes and climate/ environmental changes, except for SLA and plant height, where both lower and higher trait attributes are associated with a positive response depending on the biome and climate/environmental change considered. Overall, our findings illustrate important and general trait-climate responses within and between biomes that help us understand which plant phenotypes may cope with or thrive under current and future climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53774
JournalFrontiers of Biogeography
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


  • Climate change
  • Functional traits
  • Plant response
  • Trait-based ecology
  • Trait-environment relationship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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