Traits of dominant plant species drive normalized difference vegetation index in grasslands globally

Thore Engel, Helge Bruelheide, Daniela Hoss, Francesco M. Sabatini, Jan Altman, Mohammed A.S. Arfin-Khan, Erwin Bergmeier, Tomáš Černý, Milan Chytrý, Matteo Dainese, Jürgen Dengler, Jiri Dolezal, Richard Field, Felícia M. Fischer, Dries Huygens, Ute Jandt, Florian Jansen, Anke Jentsch, Dirk N. Karger, Jens KattgeJonathan Lenoir, Frederic Lens, Jaqueline Loos, Ülo Niinemets, Gerhard E. Overbeck, Wim A. Ozinga, Josep Penuelas, Gwendolyn Peyre, Oliver Phillips, Peter B. Reich, Christine Römermann, Brody Sandel, Marco Schmidt, Franziska Schrodt, Eduardo Velez-Martin, Cyrille Violle, Valério Pillar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Aim: Theoretical, experimental and observational studies have shown that biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) relationships are influenced by functional community structure through two mutually non-exclusive mechanisms: (1) the dominance effect (which relates to the traits of the dominant species); and (2) the niche partitioning effect [which relates to functional diversity (FD)]. Although both mechanisms have been studied in plant communities and experiments at small spatial extents, it remains unclear whether evidence from small-extent case studies translates into a generalizable macroecological pattern. Here, we evaluate dominance and niche partitioning effects simultaneously in grassland systems world-wide. Location: Two thousand nine hundred and forty-one grassland plots globally. Time period: 2000–2014. Major taxa studied: Vascular plants. Methods: We obtained plot-based data on functional community structure from the global vegetation plot database “sPlot”, which combines species composition with plant trait data from the “TRY” database. We used data on the community-weighted mean (CWM) and FD for 18 ecologically relevant plant traits. As an indicator of primary productivity, we extracted the satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) from MODIS. Using generalized additive models and deviation partitioning, we estimated the contributions of trait CWM and FD to the variation in annual maximum NDVI, while controlling for climatic variables and spatial structure. Results: Grassland communities dominated by relatively tall species with acquisitive traits had higher NDVI values, suggesting the prevalence of dominance effects for BEF relationships. We found no support for niche partitioning for the functional traits analysed, because NDVI remained unaffected by FD. Most of the predictive power of traits was shared by climatic predictors and spatial coordinates. This highlights the importance of community assembly processes for BEF relationships in natural communities. Main conclusions: Our analysis provides empirical evidence that plant functional community structure and global patterns in primary productivity are linked through the resource economics and size traits of the dominant species. This is an important test of the hypotheses underlying BEF relationships at the global scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-706
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Global Ecology and Biogeography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • biodiversity
  • biodiversity–ecosystem functioning
  • community-weighted mean
  • ecosystem functioning
  • functional diversity
  • sPlot
  • traits
  • vegetation


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