Multidimensional trait space informed by a mechanistic model of tree growth and carbon allocation

Published by Stephanie Mayer on

Plant functional traits research has revealed many interesting and important patterns among morphological, physiological, and life-history traits and the environment. These are exemplified in trade-offs between groups of traits such as those embodied in the leaf and wood economics spectra. Inferences from empirical studies are often constrained by the correlative nature of the analyses, availability of trait data, and a focus on easily measured traits. However, empirical studies have been fundamental to modeling endeavors aiming to enhance our understanding of how functional traits scale up to affect, for example, community dynamics and ecosystem productivity. Here, we take a complementary approach utilizing an individual-based model of tree growth and mortality (the allometrically constrained growth and carbon allocation [ACGCA] model) to investigate the theoretical trait space (TTS) of North American trees. The model includes 32 parameters representing allometric, physiological, and anatomical traits, some overlapping leaf and wood economics spectra traits. Using a Bayesian approach, we fit the ACGCA model to individual tree heights and diameters from the USFS Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) dataset, with further constraints by literature-based priors. Fitting the model to 1.3 million FIA records?aggregated across individuals, species, and sites?produced a posterior distribution of traits leading to realistic growth. We explored this multidimensional posterior distribution (the TTS) to evaluate trait?trait relationships emerging from the ACGCA model, and compare these against empirical patterns reported in the literature. Only three notable bivariate correlations, among 496 possible trait pairs, were contained in the TTS. However, stepwise regressions uncovered a complicated structure; only a subset of traits?related to photosynthesis (e.g., radiation-use efficiency and maintenance respiration)?exhibited strong multivariate trade-offs with each other, while half of the traits?mostly related to allometries and construction costs?varied independently of other traits. Interestingly, specific leaf area was related to several rarely measured root traits. The trade-offs contained in the TTS generally reflect mass-balance (related to carbon allocation) and engineering (mostly related to allometries) trade-offs represented in the ACGCA model and point to potentially important traits that are under-explored in field studies (e.g., root traits and branch senescence rates).