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Due to massive energetic investments in woody support structures, trees are subject to unique physiological, mechanical, and ecological pressures not experienced by herbaceous plants. Despite a wealth of studies exploring trait relationships across the entire plant kingdom, the dominant traits underpinning these unique aspects of tree form and function remain unclear. Here, by considering 18 functional traits, encompassing leaf, seed, bark, wood, crown, and root characteristics, we quantify the multidimensional relationships in tree trait expression. We find that nearly half of trait variation is captured by two axes: one reflecting leaf economics, the other reflecting tree size and competition for light. Yet these orthogonal axes reveal strong environmental convergence, exhibiting correlated responses to temperature, moisture, and elevation. By subsequently exploring multidimensional trait relationships, we show that the full dimensionality of trait space is captured by eight distinct clusters, each reflecting a unique aspect of tree form and function. Collectively, this work identifies a core set of traits needed to quantify global patterns in functional biodiversity, and it contributes to our fundamental understanding of the functioning of forests worldwide.
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Type of thesis
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