Functional biodiversity research of plants studies the characteristics and the changes in plant functional traits along environmental gradients as well as the effects of species richness and species identity on ecosystem functioning and -services.
Biodiversity is the variety of biological species, their genetic variation as well as variability in community composition. To understand this diversity, taxonomists use morphological, anatomical, metabolomic, and genetic traits to differentiate between species and shed light on phylogenetic relationships.
Plant Functional Biodiversity research
Plant Functional Biodiversity research concentrates on the functionally essential plant traits – both above and belowground for the "functioning" of the organism itself (autecological view) and for the ecosystem it lives in (ecosystemic view).
The autecological branch systematically compares functional traits. The patterns emerging when looking at many species' functional traits may explain basic principles such as fundamental tradeoffs in possible trait combinations, relationships between functional traits and the abiotic or biotic environment, or plastic and evolutionary constraints in functional trait space. Methods used to analyze these questions include:
- direct measurements of shoot and root functional traits,
- the acquisition of trait data in global databases (e.g., TRY, GRooT), and
- interspecific analysis of trait data using modern statistics.
The ecosystemic branch of functional biodiversity research studies the effects of these traits on ecosystem functioning and -services. Here both, the identity of a species (and its species-specific traits) or the diversity of species (and thus trait diversity or functional diversity) can play an important role. Our group studies both the effects and their relationships to ecosystem functioning using empirical methods such as field studies or experiments and model-based approaches. We use observational studies in the field to look at ecosystems functioning along gradients of species diversity or -identity in natural or near-natural ecosystems. Experiments, such as the Jena Experiment or the BEF China project, deliberately construct such gradients to test hypotheses about the relationship between plant species richness and ecosystem functioning. However, to understand the underlying mechanisms, these relationships are often reconstructed with ecosystem models that convert trait information into ecosystem performance. These models' forecasts can be confronted with reality to differentiate between hypotheses or generate new hypotheses.