Nav: Home

University of Exeter research explains the worldwide variation in plant life-histories

December 21, 2015

University of Exeter ecologist Dave Hodgson works with other academics to manage a plant database called COMPADRE that brings together demographic information about plant species. This database has been used to show plant life can be summarised into two variables: how fast the plant grows and its reproductive strategy.

Until now the reason for the enormous variation in the life history of plants was poorly understood, even though it is fundamental to the understanding of the evolution, abundance and distribution of species.

The study was carried out by Dr Hodgson, colleagues from Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and the Universities of Queensland, Trinity College Dublin, Southern Denmark, Radboud, Plymouth and Wageningen.

They used the demographic data from COMPADRE for 418 plant species from all four corners of the globe to examine plant life histories.

Their study, Fast-slow continuum and reproductive strategies structure plant life history variation worldwide, is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It shows around half of the variation in plant life-history is caused by whether the examined plant species grows fast and is short-lived, or slow-growing and long-living, and if it is highly or poorly reproductive.

The lifespans of mammals, birds and reptiles are influenced by similar patterns, suggesting these variables explain how life is organised on Earth. Understanding these patterns could help to predict population persistence, extinction and diversification.

The COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database was created to determine which attributes may predict the risk of local extinction of endangered species and the potential for invasion of alien species.

Dr Hodgson, Associate Professor of Ecology based at the University's Penryn campus in Cornwall, said: "We are in a new age of ecological research, when information from all over the world can be brought together into databases. International teams of collaborative scientists can then seek patterns, and test general hypotheses, that would be impossible using single studies of individual species.

"In this research we find that variation in plant life histories cannot be captured using a single continuum. Instead we find that plants vary not just in their pace of life, but also in their reproductive output and frequency of reproduction. This helps us to understand invasive species, and endangered plants. The COMPADRE database is an incredible resource for further study of plant demography and ecology."

Dr Roberto Salguero-Gómez, from the University of Queensland, Australia, said: "We found that life history strategies of these 418 plant species - very different species from all over the world - can be explained by an axis representing the 'pace of life' and another representing their wide range of reproductive strategies.

"Our framework predicts responses to perturbations and long-term population performance, thus showing great promise as a predictive tool for understanding plant population responses to environmental change."

University of Exeter

Related Plant Species Articles:

Scientists challenge notion of binary sexuality with naming of new plant species
A collaborative team of scientists from the US and Australia has named a new plant species from the remote Outback.
Plant lineage points to different evolutionary playbook for temperate species
An ancient, cosmopolitan lineage of plants is shaking up scientists' understanding of how quickly species evolve in temperate ecosystems and why.
Native plant species may be at greater risk from climate change than non-natives
A study led by researchers at Indiana University's Environmental Resilience Institute has revealed that warming temperatures affect native and non-native flowering plants differently, which could change the look of local landscapes over time.
'Specialized' microbes within plant species promote diversity
A Yale-led research team conducted an experiment that suggests microbes can specialize within plant species, which can promote plant species diversity and increased seed dispersal.
New machine learning method predicts additions to global list of threatened plant species
A new method uses machine learning and open-access data to predict whether species are eligible for at-risk status on the IUCN Red List.
Bioactive novel compounds from endangered tropical plant species
A Japan-based research team led by Kanazawa University has isolated 17 secondary metabolites, including three novel compounds from the valuable endangered tropical plant species Alangium longiflorum.
Global study finds taller plant species taking over as mountains and the Arctic warm
A study by more than 100 global researchers, including Simon Fraser University biologist David Hik, is linking the effects of climate change to new and taller plant species in the Arctic and alpine tundra.
New plant species discovered in museum is probably extinct
A single non-photosynthetic plant specimen preserved in a Japanese natural history museum has been identified as a new species.
Plant virus alters competition between aphid species
In the world of plant-feeding insects, who shows up first to the party determines the overall success of the gathering; yet viruses can disrupt these intricate relationships, according to researchers at Penn State.
Science and Twitter join forces to uncover a globally imperiled plant species
What happens when researchers and social media combine forces in the name of science?
More Plant Species News and Plant Species Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at