Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2023, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (2): 145-169.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2022.0245

• Reviews •     Next Articles

Functional biogeography of plants: research progresses and challenges

LI Yao-Qi1,2, WANG Zhi-Heng1,*()   

  1. 1Institute of Ecology, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences and Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
    2School of Science, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, Jiangsu 215123, China
  • Received:2022-06-13 Accepted:2022-09-08 Online:2023-02-20 Published:2023-02-28
  • Contact: *(
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(32125026);National Natural Science Foundation of China(31988102)


Functional biogeography studies the spatio-temporal variations in patterns of traits and functional diversity, their ecological determinants and effects on ecosystem functioning. With the exponential growth in trait data, this field has developed rapidly in the recent decades and made major progress in exploring the response of species distribution, community structure and composition, and ecosystem properties on environmental changes based on traits. In this paper, we reviewed core objectives, historical developments, main research advance and future directions in the field of plant functional biogeography. Traits are the focus of research in functional biogeography. Here, we first described major findings on the spatial patterns of key traits in plant organs (i.e. leaves, stems, roots, and flowers, along with fruits and seeds) to the whole plants, and their relationships with environment, showing that traits variations are the results of plant adaptive evolution and environmental filtering. Secondly, we summarized the indicators of functional diversity, assessed the spatial distributions of functional diversity, and identified their determinants. We also summarized the main data sources of traits and related gap-filling approaches. Next, we reviewed trait associations and trade-offs among and within organs as well as in the entire plants, focusing on the global leaf economics spectrums and wood economics spectrum, and pointing out the strategies of plants to obtain and allocate important resource (i.e. carbon, nutrients and water). We summarized how trait-based approaches help to predict species distribution, and the link between trait diversity with ecosystem functions. We highlighted the challenges in current research and emphasized the importance to focus on the coordination and trade-offs among multiple traits along with both inter- and intra-specific trait variation in future research, transferring species-based models to individual-based ones, and to adopt approaches like trait networks to quantify the links among traits and their response to environmental changes, further to explore adaptation of plants across scales. Meanwhile, we suggested potential improvement in application of current research advances, which may be useful in constructing next-generation vegetation models and guiding the function-based conservation of plant diversity in future research.

Key words: trait, geographical pattern, economics spectrum, trade-off, biogeography, biodiversity