The imprint of plants on ecosystem functioning: A data-driven approach

Talie Musavi, Miguel D. Mahecha, Mirco Migliavacca, Markus Reichstein, Martine Janet van de Weg, Peter M. van Bodegom, Michael Bahn, Christian Wirth, Peter B. Reich, Franziska Schrodt, Jens Kattge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Terrestrial ecosystems strongly determine the exchange of carbon, water and energy between the biosphere and atmosphere. These exchanges are influenced by environmental conditions (e.g., local meteorology, soils), but generally mediated by organisms. Often, mathematical descriptions of these processes are implemented in terrestrial biosphere models. Model implementations of this kind should be evaluated by empirical analyses of relationships between observed patterns of ecosystem functioning, vegetation structure, plant traits, and environmental conditions. However, the question of how to describe the imprint of plants on ecosystem functioning based on observations has not yet been systematically investigated. One approach might be to identify and quantify functional attributes or responsiveness of ecosystems (often very short-term in nature) that contribute to the long-term (i.e., annual but also seasonal or daily) metrics commonly in use. Here we define these patterns as "ecosystem functional properties", or EFPs. Such as the ecosystem capacity of carbon assimilation or the maximum light use efficiency of an ecosystem. While EFPs should be directly derivable from flux measurements at the ecosystem level, we posit that these inherently include the influence of specific plant traits and their local heterogeneity. We present different options of upscaling in situ measured plant traits to the ecosystem level (ecosystem vegetation properties - EVPs) and provide examples of empirical analyses on plants' imprint on ecosystem functioning by combining in situ measured plant traits and ecosystem flux measurements. Finally, we discuss how recent advances in remote sensing contribute to this framework.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-131
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
T.M. acknowledges the International Max Planck Research School for global biogeochemical cycles. The study has been supported by the TRY initiative on plant traits ( ), hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and currently supported by DIVERSITAS/Future Earth and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle–Jena–Leipzig. We wish to thank all the people who made the data on N% available in TRY ( Cornelissen, 1996; Cornelissen et al., 1996; Bahn et al., 1999; Medlyn et al., 1999; Meziane and Shipley, 1999; Niinemets, 2001; Cornelissen et al., 2003b; Loveys et al., 2003; Quested et al., 2003; Ogaya and Penuelas, 2003; Cornelissen et al., 2004; Díaz et al., 2004; Wright et al., 2004; Bakker et al., 2005; Craine et al., 2005; Han et al., 2005; Louault et al., 2005; Bakker et al., 2006; Kazakou et al., 2006; Kerkhoff et al., 2006; Preston et al., 2006; Campbell et al., 2007; Garnier et al., 2007; Cornwell et al., 2008; Reich et al., 2008; Craine et al., 2009; Kattge et al., 2009; Reich et al., 2009; Freschet et al., 2010; Laughlin et al., 2010; Ordoñez et al., 2010; Willis et al., 2010 ). We thank Lee Miller for his kind language check.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Biogeochemical fluxes
  • Biosphere-atmosphere interactions
  • Ecosystem functional properties
  • Plant traits
  • Remote sensing
  • Scaling


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