Essential properties of treetops have been mapped worldwide for the first time. Machu Picchu forest in Peru.
Photo: © Tobias Mandt /


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From Alaska to the Amazon. Detailed global maps of key plant growth features have been compiled by an international team of researchers in the framework of the European Union’s “Biosphere Atmosphere Change Index – BACI” programme. The maps are intended to result in a better representation of vegetation and climate and improve future computations of the carbon cycle.

Detailed global maps of key traits of higher plants have been compiled for the first time, thanks to researchers from the University of Minnesota, USA, in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (MPI-BGC), Jena, Germany, and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Halle-Jena-Leipzig. Based on measurements of 45,000 individual plants from 3,680 species and high-tech statistical mapping protocols, the team created global maps of plant traits essential for growth.

The maps include leaf nitrogen concentration, leaf phosphorus concentration and specific leaf area, a measure of the area displayed to intercept light relative to leaf biomass. The fine-grained maps with more than 50,000 pixels show surprisingly large local variations in these trait values.

Since the plant traits mapped in the study are critical for photosynthesis and foliar respiration, they serve as input to Earth System Models (ESMs). Consequently, the large local variations observed could significantly impact future carbon cycle calculations produced by ESMs.

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