Spatial patterns and climate relationships of major plant traits in the New World differ between woody and herbaceous species

Aim: Despite several recent efforts to map plant traits and to identify their climatic drivers, there are still major gaps. Global trait patterns for major functional groups, in particular, the differences between woody and herbaceous plants, have yet to be identified. Here, we take advantage of big data efforts to compile plant species occurrence and trait data to analyse the spatial patterns of assemblage means and variances of key plant traits. We tested whether these patterns and their climatic drivers are similar for woody and herbaceous plants. Location: New World (North and South America). Methods: Using the largest currently available database of plant occurrences, we provide maps of 200 200 km grid-cell trait means and variances for both woody and herbaceous species and identify environmental drivers related to these patterns. We focus on six plant traits: maximum plant height, specific leaf area, seed mass, wood density, leaf nitrogen concentration and leaf phosphorus concentration. Results: For woody assemblages, we found a strong climate signal for both means and variances of most of the studied traits, consistent with strong environmental filtering. In contrast, for herbaceous assemblages, spatial patterns of trait means and variances were more variable, the climate signal on trait means was often different and weaker. Main conclusion: Trait variations for woody versus herbaceous assemblages appear to reflect alternative strategies and differing environmental constraints. Given that most large-scale trait studies are based on woody species, the strikingly different biogeographic patterns of herbaceous traits suggest that a more synthetic framework is needed that addresses how suites of traits within and across broad functional groups respond to climate. Aim: Despite several recent efforts to map plant traits and to identify their climatic drivers, there are still major gaps. Global trait patterns for major functional groups, in particular, the differences between woody and herbaceous plants, have yet to be identified. Here, we take advantage of big data efforts to compile plant species occurrence and trait data to analyse the spatial patterns of assemblage means and variances of key plant traits. We tested whether these patterns and their climatic drivers are similar for woody and herbaceous plants. Location: New World (North and South America). Methods: Using the largest currently available database of plant occurrences, we provide maps of 200 200 km grid-cell trait means and variances for both woody and herbaceous species and identify environmental drivers related to these patterns. We focus on six plant traits: maximum plant height, specific leaf area, seed mass, wood density, leaf nitrogen concentration and leaf phosphorus concentration. Results: For woody assemblages, we found a strong climate signal for both means and variances of most of the studied traits, consistent with strong environmental filtering. In contrast, for herbaceous assemblages, spatial patterns of trait means and variances were more variable, the climate signal on trait means was often different and weaker. Main conclusion: Trait variations for woody versus herbaceous assemblages appear to reflect alternative strategies and differing environmental constraints. Given that most large-scale trait studies are based on woody species, the strikingly different biogeographic patterns of herbaceous traits suggest that a more synthetic framework is needed that addresses how suites of traits within and across broad functional groups respond to climate.