Accounting for trait variability and coordination in predictions of drought-induced range shifts in woody plants

Jordi Martínez-Vilalta*, Raúl García-Valdés, Alistair Jump, Albert Vilà-Cabrera, Maurizio Mencuccini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Functional traits offer a promising avenue to improve predictions of species range shifts under climate change, which will entail warmer and often drier conditions. Although the conceptual foundation linking traits with plant performance and range shifts appears solid, the predictive ability of individual traits remains generally low. In this review, we address this apparent paradox, emphasizing examples of woody plants and traits associated with drought responses at the species' rear edge. Low predictive ability reflects the fact not only that range dynamics tend to be complex and multifactorial, as well as uncertainty in the identification of relevant traits and limited data availability, but also that trait effects are scale- and context-dependent. The latter results from the complex interactions among traits (e.g. compensatory effects) and between them and the environment (e.g. exposure), which ultimately determine persistence and colonization capacity. To confront this complexity, a more balanced coverage of the main functional dimensions involved (stress tolerance, resource use, regeneration and dispersal) is needed, and modelling approaches must be developed that explicitly account for: trait coordination in a hierarchical context; trait variability in space and time and its relationship with exposure; and the effect of biotic interactions in an ecological community context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-40
Number of pages18
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • colonization
  • drought tolerance
  • environmental context
  • modelling range dynamics
  • persistence
  • species distributions
  • trait coordination
  • trait variability


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