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Title: Traits of dominant plant species drive normalized difference vegetation index in grasslands globally
Abstract Aim

Theoretical, experimental and observational studies have shown that biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) relationships are influenced by functional community structure through two mutually non‐exclusive mechanisms: (1) the dominance effect (which relates to the traits of the dominant species); and (2) the niche partitioning effect [which relates to functional diversity (FD)]. Although both mechanisms have been studied in plant communities and experiments at small spatial extents, it remains unclear whether evidence from small‐extent case studies translates into a generalizable macroecological pattern. Here, we evaluate dominance and niche partitioning effects simultaneously in grassland systems world‐wide.


Two thousand nine hundred and forty‐one grassland plots globally.

Time period


Major taxa studied

Vascular plants.


We obtained plot‐based data on functional community structure from the global vegetation plot database “sPlot”, which combines species composition with plant trait data from the “TRY” database. We used data on the community‐weighted mean (CWM) and FD for 18 ecologically relevant plant traits. As an indicator of primary productivity, we extracted the satellite‐derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) from MODIS. Using generalized additive models and deviation partitioning, we estimated the contributions of trait CWM and FD to the variation in annual maximum NDVI, while controlling for climatic variables and spatial structure.


Grassland communities dominated by relatively tall species with acquisitive traits had higher NDVI values, suggesting the prevalence of dominance effects for BEF relationships. We found no support for niche partitioning for the functional traits analysed, because NDVI remained unaffected by FD. Most of the predictive power of traits was shared by climatic predictors and spatial coordinates. This highlights the importance of community assembly processes for BEF relationships in natural communities.

Main conclusions

Our analysis provides empirical evidence that plant functional community structure and global patterns in primary productivity are linked through the resource economics and size traits of the dominant species. This is an important test of the hypotheses underlying BEF relationships at the global scale.

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Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Online Library
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Global Ecology and Biogeography
Page Range / eLocation ID:
695 to 706
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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