The concept of the biome has a long history dating back to Carl Ludwig Willdenow and Alexander von Humboldt. However, while the association between climate and the structure and diversity of vegetation has a long history, scientists have only recently begun to develop a more synthetic understanding of biomes based on the evolution of plant diversity, function, and community assembly. At the broadest scales, climate filters species based on their functional attributes, and the resulting functional differences in dominant vegetation among biomes are important to modeling the global carbon cycle and the functioning of the Earth system. Nevertheless, across biomes, plant species have been shown to occupy a common set of global functional "spectra", reflecting variation in overall plant size, leaf economics, and hydraulics. Still, comprehensive measures of functional diversity and assessments of functional similarity have not been compared across biomes at continental to global scales. Here, we examine distributions of functional diversity of plant species across the biomes of North and South America, based on distributional information for > 80,000 vascular plant species and functional trait data for ca. 8,000 of those species. First, we show that despite progress in data integration and synthesis, significant knowledge shortfalls persist that limit our ability to quantify the functional biodiversity of biomes. Second, our analyses of the available data show that all the biomes in North and South America share a common pattern-most geographically common, widespread species in any biome tend to be functionally similar whereas the most functionally distinctive species are restricted in their distribution. Third, when only the widespread and functionally similar species in each biome are considered, biomes can be more readily distinguished functionally, and patterns of dissimilarity between biomes appear to reflect a correspondence between climate and functional niche space. Taken together, our results suggest that while the study of the functional diversity of biomes is still in its formative stages, further development of the field will yield insights linking evolution, biogeography, community assembly, and ecosystem function.
- Functional traits
- Plant functional diversity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics