The evolution of plant functional variation: Traits, spectra, and strategies

P. B. Reich, I. J. Wright, J. Cavender-Bares, J. M. Craine, Jacek Oleksyn, M. Westoby, M. B. Walters

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1072 Scopus citations


Variation in plant functional traits results from evolutionary and environmental drivers that operate at a variety of different scales, which makes it a challenge to differentiate among them. In this article we describe patterns of functional trait variation and trait correlations within and among habitats in relation to several environmental and trade-off axes. We then ask whether such patterns reflect natural selection and can be considered plant strategies. In so doing we highlight evidence that demonstrates that (1) patterns of trait variation across resource and environmental gradients (light, water, nutrients, and temperature) probably reflect adaptation, (2) plant trait variation typically involves multiple-correlated traits that arise because of inevitable trade-offs among traits and across levels of whole-plant integration and that must be understood from a whole-plant perspective, and (3) such adaptation may be globally generalizable for like conditions; i.e., the set of traits (collections of traits in syndromes) of taxa can be considered as "plant strategies".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S143-S164
JournalInternational Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
StatePublished - May 2003


  • Adaptation
  • Fitness
  • Functional groups
  • Plant traits
  • Selection


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