Researchers Wingler and Sandel recently published a study in AoB PLANTS that examines the diverse functional strategies of grass species. By scrutinizing global trait data of various grasses, the researchers have unravelled intriguing relationships between plant functional strategies, climate distribution, and the likelihood of a species becoming naturalized outside its native range.
Using the competitor, stress tolerator, ruderal (CSR) system, the team analyzed these functional strategies based on leaf traits. CSR categorizes plants according to three life strategies – competitiveness (C), stress tolerance (S), and ruderal (R) or disturbance tolerance. The researchers also evaluated differences in these strategies according to lifespan, photosynthetic type, and naturalization status.
Their findings revealed that C4 grass species were more competitive than C3 species, perennial grasses exhibited higher stress tolerance than annuals, and introduced species had more pronounced competitive-ruderal strategies than native species. These results showed a relationship between leaf traits and other functional traits, suggesting that both above and belowground traits contribute to the realized CSR strategies of grasses.
Perhaps even more intriguing, the study found correlations between climate and CSR classification. Grass species that employed competitive strategies were more common in warmer climates with high precipitation. In contrast, species with stress-tolerant strategies were more common in cold climates with low precipitation. The results have implications for understanding grass invasions. Wingler and Sandel write:
Perennial grass species had stronger stress tolerance and less pronounced ruderal strategies than annuals, C4 species had more competitive strategies than C3 species, and introduced species had more competitive-ruderal strategies than native species. Further, species with competitive strategies were more common in climates with favourable growth conditions, whereas those with stress tolerance strategies were more common in climates with low temperatures and low precipitation. Species distribution and invasion success are therefore affected by climate change, with competitive C4 invaders likely to become more successful as temperatures rise in currently colder climatic regions.Winger and Sandel 2023
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Wingler, A. and Sandel, B. (2023) “Relationships of the competitor, stress tolerator, ruderal functional strategies of grass species with lifespan, photosynthetic type, naturalization and climate,” AoB PLANTS, 15(3), p. lad021. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/aobpla/plad021.