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Functional diversity in plant communities: the role of environmental filters

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Greening the planet

A formidable database of functional diversity in plants and its impact on different regions of the world will enable us to understand and manage biodiversity better. It will also help mitigate global warming and reverse man-made damage to the environment.

Climate Change and Environment

Plants are an important part of our intricate ecosystems and have a direct effect on the microclimate, global warming and well-being of people. By studying plants in different regions of the world and identifying their functional traits, science can help improve biodiversity, thus encouraging plant filtering activity and ensuring the co-existence of species. The EU-funded project 'Functional diversity in plant communities: the role of environmental filters' (Diversitraits) brings together the disciplines of botany, ecology and biology to identify functional traits of plants on a global scale. Rather than examining plants on a local level, the project aims to single out ecological patterns in a holistic approach. This promises to help policymakers respond better to balancing ecosystems and addressing negative human impact on nature. The project has collected trait data and botanical information to analyse them from a bio-geographical perspective. It has also established a framework for outlining functional diversity and traits in different parts of the world in order to understand responses of organisms, communities and ecosystems to environmental changes. Diversitraits has built a database for around 45,000 species and 25 core plant functional traits, based on knowledge from surveys, botanists and software technicians. Project results have also incorporated research by ecologists on vegetation for all of North and South America documenting around 20 million species. This constitutes the largest initiative on plant diversity ever created. In addition, partners have merged data from herbariums of different countries into the project's botanical database. All these records and datasets are enabling the project to produce valuable maps of functional traits by combining the species' occurrence and trait information. This sheds light on traits along different latitudes and climates, allowing researchers to glean important information. To illustrate, one preliminary conclusion showed that tropical areas are functionally richer than temperate ones. Many other conclusions are expected to emerge, helping us manage our planet in a greener, more sustainable way and thus contribute to richer biodiversity.

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