Plant trait networks reveal adaptation strategies in the drylands of China

Xiaoting Wang, Mingfei Ji, Yahui Zhang, Liang Zhang, Muhammad Adnan Akram, Longwei Dong, Weigang Hu, Junlan Xiong, Ying Sun, Hailin Li, Abraham Allan Degen, Jinzhi Ran, Jianming Deng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Plants accomplish multiple functions by the interrelationships between functional traits. Clarifying the complex relationships between plant traits would enable us to better understand how plants employ different strategies to adapt to the environment. Although increasing attention is being paid to plant traits, few studies focused on the adaptation to aridity through the relationship among multiple traits. We established plant trait networks (PTNs) to explore the interdependence of sixteen plant traits across drylands. Results: Our results revealed significant differences in PTNs among different plant life-forms and different levels of aridity. Trait relationships for woody plants were weaker, but were more modularized than for herbs. Woody plants were more connected in economic traits, whereas herbs were more connected in structural traits to reduce damage caused by drought. Furthermore, the correlations between traits were tighter with higher edge density in semi-arid than in arid regions, suggesting that resource sharing and trait coordination are more advantageous under low drought conditions. Importantly, our results demonstrated that stem phosphorus concentration (SPC) was a hub trait correlated with other traits across drylands. Conclusions: The results demonstrate that plants exhibited adaptations to the arid environment by adjusting trait modules through alternative strategies. PTNs provide a new insight into understanding the adaptation strategies of plants to drought stress based on the interdependence among plant functional traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number266
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Adaptation strategies
  • Arid environment
  • Interdependence
  • Plant functional traits
  • Plant traits networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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