Ian J. Wright's research while affiliated with Western Sydney University and other places

Publications (218)

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Leaf functional traits are important indicators of plant growth and ecosystem dynamics. Despite a wealth of knowledge about leaf trait relationships, a mechanistic understanding of how biotic and abiotic factors quantitatively influence leaf trait variation and scaling is still incomplete. We propose that leaf water content (LWC) inherently affects...
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Functional traits are good predictors of plant responses and adaptations to ever‐changing environments. However, forecasting forest community dynamics is challenging because the relationships among different tree demographic properties (growth, mortality, and recruitment) and how functional traits are associated with tree demography remain largely...
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Tropical forests take up more carbon (C) from the atmosphere per annum by photosynthesis than any other type of vegetation. Phosphorus (P) limitations to C uptake are paramount for tropical and subtropical forests around the globe. Yet the generality of photosynthesis-P relationships underlying these limitations are in question, and hence are not r...
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Leaf dry mass per unit area (LMA), carboxylation capacity (Vcmax) and leaf nitrogen per unit area (Narea) and mass (Nmass) are key traits for plant functional ecology and ecosystem modelling. There is however no consensus about how these traits are regulated, or how they should be modelled. Here we confirm that observed leaf nitrogen across species...
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Background and Aims The process of domestication has driven dramatic shifts in plant functional traits including leaf mass per area (LMA). It remains unclear whether domestication has produced concerted shifts in the lower-level anatomical traits that underpin LMA and how these traits in turn affect photosynthesis. Methods In this study we investi...
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Whether increased photosynthates under elevated atmospheric CO2 could translate into sustained biomass accumulation in forest trees remains uncertain. Here we demonstrate how tree radial growth is closely linked to litterfall dynamics, which enhances nitrogen recycling to support a sustained effect of CO2 fertilization on tree-ring growth. Our ten-...
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Current global challenges call for a rigorously predictive ecology. Our understanding of ecological strategies, imputed through suites of measurable functional traits, comes from decades of work that largely focussed on plants. However, a key question is whether plant ecological strategies resemble those of other organisms. Among animals, ants have...
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Safeguarding Earth’s tree diversity is a conservation priority due to the importance of trees for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services such as carbon sequestration. Here, we improve the foundation for effective conservation of global tree diversity by analyzing a recently developed database of tree species covering 46,752 species. We q...
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Trait databases have become important resources for large-scale comparative studies in ecology and evolution. Here we introduce the AnimalTraits database, a curated database of body mass, metabolic rate and brain size, in standardised units, for terrestrial animals. The database has broad taxonomic breadth, including tetrapods, arthropods, molluscs...
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Plant function arises from a complex network of structural and physiological traits. Explicit representation of these traits, as well as their connections with other biophysical processes, is required to advance our understanding of plant‐soil‐climate interactions. We used the Terrestrial Regional Ecosystem Exchange Simulator (TREES) to evaluate ph...
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Our ability to understand how species may respond to changing climate conditions is hampered by a lack of high‐quality data on the adaptive capacity of species. Plant functional traits are linked to many aspects of species life history and adaptation to environment, with different combinations of trait values reflecting alternate strategies for ada...
Preprint
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Plant function arises from a complex network of structural and physiological traits. Explicit representation of these traits, as well as their connections with other biophysical processes, is required to advance our understanding of plant-soil-climate interactions. We used the Terrestrial Regional Ecosystem Exchange Simulator (TREES) to evaluate ph...
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Background and aims: Despite the critical role of woody tissues in determining net carbon exchange of terrestrial ecosystems, relatively little is known regarding the drivers of sapwood and bark respiration. Methods: Using one of the most comprehensive wood respiration datasets to date (82 species from Australian rainforest, savanna and temperat...
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Nitrogen (N) limitation has been considered as a constraint on terrestrial carbon uptake in response to rising CO2 and climate change. By extension, it has been suggested that declining carboxylation capacity (Vcmax) and leaf N content in enhanced‐CO2 experiments and satellite records signify increasing N limitation of primary production. We predic...
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Plant functional traits can predict community assembly and ecosystem functioning and are thus widely used in global models of vegetation dynamics and land–climate feedbacks. Still, we lack a global understanding of how land and climate affect plant traits. A previous global analysis of six traits observed two main axes of variation: (1) size variat...
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Domestication involves dramatic phenotypic and physiological diversifications due to successive selection by breeders toward high yield and quality. Although photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency (PNUE) is a major trait for understanding leaf nitrogen economy, it is unclear whether PNUE of cotton has been improved under domestication. Here, we inv...
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Predictions of how vegetation responds to spatial and temporal differences in climate rely on established links with plant functional traits and vegetation types that can be encoded into Dynamic Global Vegetation Models. Individual traits have been linked to climate at species level and at community level within regions. However, a recent global as...
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The leaf economics spectrum1,2 and the global spectrum of plant forms and functions³ revealed fundamental axes of variation in plant traits, which represent different ecological strategies that are shaped by the evolutionary development of plant species². Ecosystem functions depend on environmental conditions and the traits of species that comprise...
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Generalised dose‐response curves are essential to understand how plants acclimate to atmospheric CO2. We carried out a meta‐analysis of 630 experiments where C3 plants were experimentally grown at different [CO2] under relatively benign conditions, and derived dose‐response curves for 85 phenotypic traits. These curves were characterised by form, p...
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We introduce the AusTraits database - a compilation of values of plant traits for taxa in the Australian flora (hereafter AusTraits). AusTraits synthesises data on 448 traits across 28,640 taxa from field campaigns, published literature, taxonomic monographs, and individual taxon descriptions. Traits vary in scope from physiological measures of per...
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Island biogeography is the study of the spatio-temporal distribution of species, communities, assemblages or ecosystems on islands and other isolated habitats. Island diversity is structured by five classes of process: dispersal, establishment, biotic interactions, extinction and evolution. Classical approaches in island biogeography focused on spe...
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Close coupling between water loss and carbon dioxide uptake requires coordination of plant hydraulics and photosynthesis. However, there is still limited information on the quantitative relationships between hydraulic and photosynthetic traits. We propose a basis for these relationships based on optimality theory, and test its predictions by analys...
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Background and Aims Leaf size has considerable ecological relevance, making it desirable to obtain leaf size estimations for as many species worldwide as possible. Current global databases, such as TRY, contain leaf size data for approximately 30,000 species, which is only ca. 8% of known species worldwide. Yet, taxonomic descriptions exist for the...
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Mesophyll conductance (gm) is a crucial leaf trait contributing to photosynthetic rate (AN). Plant domestication typically leads to an enhancement of AN that is often associated with profoundly anatomical modifications but it is unclear which of these structural alterations influence gm. We analyzed the implication of domestication on leaf anatomy...
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Global vegetation and land‐surface models embody interdisciplinary scientific understanding of the behaviour of plants and ecosystems, and are indispensable to project the impacts of environmental change on vegetation and the interactions between vegetation and climate. However, systematic errors and persistently large differences among carbon and...
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Aim Here we examine the functional profile of regional tree species pools across the latitudinal distribution of Neotropical moist forests, and test trait–climate relationships among local communities. We expected opportunistic strategies (acquisitive traits, small seeds) to be overrepresented in species pools further from the equator, but also in...
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Aim Species diversity on islands generally increases with island area. This might arise either from direct effects of island area via neutral assembly processes or from indirect effects via habitat and structural differences between islands that scale positively with island area. Here, we tested whether community-weighted functional trait means of...
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Background and aimsRoot-released carboxylates enhance the availability of manganese (Mn), which enters roots through transporters with low substrate specificity. Leaf Mn concentration ([Mn]) has been proposed as a signature for phosphorus (P)-mobilising carboxylates in the rhizosphere. Here we test whether leaf [Mn] provides a signature for root fu...
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Questions The taxonomic and functional composition of plant communities capture different dimensions of diversity. Functional diversity (FD) – as calculated from species traits – typically increases with species richness in communities and is expected to be higher in less extreme environments, where a broader range of functional strategies can pers...
Preprint
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The coupling between water loss and carbon dioxide uptake drives the coordination of plant hydraulic and photosynthetic traits. Analysing multi-species measurements on a 3000 m elevation gradient, we found that hydraulic and leaf-economic traits were less plastic, and more phylogenetically patterned, than photosynthetic traits. The two trait sets a...
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Eastern Australia was subject to its hottest and driest year on record in 2019. This extreme drought resulted in massive canopy die‐back in eucalypt forests. We examined the role of hydraulic failure and tree size on canopy die‐back in three eucalypt tree species during this drought. We measured pre‐dawn and midday leaf water potential (Ψleaf), per...
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Plant species vary in how they regulate moisture and this has implications for their flammability during wildfires. We explored how fuel moisture is shaped by variation within six hydraulic traits: saturated moisture content, cell wall rigidity, cell solute potential, symplastic water fraction and tissue capacitance. Using pressure‐volume curves, w...
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The worldwide leaf economics spectrum relates leaf lifespan (LL) to leaf dry mass per unit area (LMA). By combining three well-supported principles, we show that an isometric relationship between these two quantities maximizes the leaf net carbon gain. This theory predicts a spectrum of equally competent LMA-LL combinations in any given environment...
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Economic principles can be extended to biological organisms as they optimize the use of resources, but their use in biology has been limited. We applied concepts from traditional economics to the main production unit of plants, the leaf. We quantified the profitability (profit/cost of investment) of leaves from seven biomes worldwide and compared t...
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We introduce the AusTraits database - a compilation of measurements of plant traits for taxa in the Australian flora (hereafter AusTraits). AusTraits synthesises data on 375 traits across 29230 taxa from field campaigns, published literature, taxonomic monographs, and individual taxa descriptions. Traits vary in scope from physiological measures of...
Preprint
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Trees are of vital importance for ecosystem functioning and services at local to global scales, yet we still lack a detailed overview of the global patterns of tree diversity and the underlying drivers, particularly the imprint of paleoclimate. Here, we present the high-resolution (110 km) worldwide mapping of tree species richness, functional and...
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Photosynthetic “least‐cost” theory posits that the optimal trait combination for a given environment is that where the summed costs of photosynthetic water and nutrient acquisition/use are minimised. The effects of soil water and nutrient availability on photosynthesis should be stronger as climate‐related costs for both resources increase. Two ind...
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Plants and vegetation play a critical—but largely unpredictable—role in global environmental changes due to the multitude of contributing processes at widely different spatial and temporal scales. In this Perspective, we explore approaches to master this complexity and improve our ability to predict vegetation dynamics by explicitly taking account...
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Although trees are key to ecosystem functioning, many forests and tree species across the globe face strong threats. Preserving areas of high biodiversity is a core priority for conservation; however, different dimensions of biodiversity and varied conservation targets make it difficult to respond effectively to this challenge. Here, we (i) identif...
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We used a widely‐distributed tree Eucalyptus camaldulensis subsp. camaldulensis to partition intraspecific variation in leaf functional traits to genotypic variation and phenotypic plasticity. We examined if genotypic variation is related to the climate of genotype provenance and whether phenotypic plasticity maintains performance in a changing env...
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An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.
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Leaf area (LA), mass per area (LMA), nitrogen per unit area (Narea) and the leaf‐internal to ambient CO2 ratio (χ) are fundamental traits for plant functional ecology and vegetation modelling. We aimed to assess how their variation, within and between species, tracks environmental gradients. Measurements were made on 705 species from 116 sites with...
Preprint
The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) ambitiously calls for an assessment of extinction risk for all recognised plant taxa by 2020. It is now clear that this target will not be met in the short-term; only 21-26% of known plant species have been assessed - a monumental shortfall in anticipated knowledge. Yet the need for risk assessments...
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Plant respiration is an important contributor to the proposed positive global carbon-cycle feedback to climate change. However, as a major component, leaf mitochondrial ('dark') respiration (Rd ) differs among species adapted to contrasting environments and is known to acclimate to sustained changes in temperature. No accepted theory explains these...
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Synthesizing trait observations and knowledge across the Tree of Life remains a grand challenge for biodiversity science. Species traits are widely used in ecological and evolutionary science, and new data and methods have proliferated rapidly. Yet accessing and integrating disparate data sources remains a considerable challenge, slowing progress t...
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The abundance of living cells in wood—mainly as interconnected axial and ray parenchyma networks—varies widely between species. However, the functional significance of this variation and its role in plant ecological strategies is poorly understood, as is the extent to which different parenchyma fractions are favored in relation to soil nutrients an...
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Plant traits—the morphological, anatomical, physiological, biochemical and phenological characteristics of plants—determine how plants respond to environmental factors, affect other trophic levels, and influence ecosystem properties and their benefits and detriments to people. Plant trait data thus represent the basis for a vast area of research sp...
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Intrinsic water use efficiency (iWUE), defined as the ratio of photosynthesis to stomatal conductance, is a key variable in plant physiology and ecology. Yet, how rising atmospheric CO2 concentration affects iWUE at broad species and ecosystem scales is poorly understood. In a field-based study of 244 woody angiosperm species across eight biomes ov...
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Plant trait variability, emerging from eco-evolutionary dynamics that range from alleles to macroecological scales, is one of the most elusive, but possibly most consequential, aspects of biodiversity. Plasticity, epigenetics, and genetic diversity are major determinants of how plants will respond to climate change, yet these processes are rarely r...
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Stem xylem‐specific hydraulic conductivity (KS) represents the potential for plant water transport normalized by xylem cross‐section, length, and driving force. Variation in KS has implications for plant transpiration and photosynthesis, growth and survival, and also the geographic distribution of species. Clarifying the global‐scale patterns of KS...
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Abstract Vegetation is composed of many individual species whose climatic tolerances can be integrated into spatial analyses of climate change risk. Here, we quantify climate change risk to vegetation at a continental scale by calculating the safety margins for warming and drying (i.e., tolerance to projected change in temperature and precipitation...
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Stomatal conductance (gs) in terrestrial vegetation regulates the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and water loss through transpiration, closely linking the biosphere and atmosphere and influencing climate. Yet, the range and pattern of gs in plants from natural ecosystems across broad geographic, climatic, and taxonomic rang...
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Plant growth rates drive ecosystem productivity and are a central element of plant ecological strategies. For seedlings grown under controlled conditions, a large literature has firmly identified the functional traits that drive interspecific variation in growth rate. For adult plants, the corresponding knowledge is surprisingly poorly understood....
Preprint
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Synthesising trait observations and knowledge across the Tree of Life remains a grand challenge for biodiversity science. Despite the well-recognised importance of traits for addressing ecological and evolutionary questions, trait-based approaches still struggle with several basic data requirements to deliver openly accessible, reproducible, and tr...
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Disease management in agriculture often assumes that pathogens are spread homogeneously across crops. In practice, pathogens can manifest in patches. Currently, disease detection is predominantly carried out by human assessors, which can be slow and expensive. A remote sensing approach holds promise. Current satellite sensors are not suitable to sp...
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Earth system models (ESMs) use photosynthetic capacity, indexed by the maximum Rubisco carboxylation rate (Vcmax), to simulate carbon assimilation and typically rely on empirical estimates, including an assumed dependence on leaf nitrogen determined from soil fertility. In contrast, new theory, based on biochemical coordination and co‐optimization...