Uncommon Ground

Monthly Archive: April 2021

The link between traits and performance in Protea

If you’re reading this, you probably know enough about me to know that my students and I have been working on Protea for the last 10-15 years. Today I am pleased to report that the most recent work, from Kristen Nolting’s PhD dissertation has appeared in Annals of Botany. The advance publication version appeared nearly a year ago, but the paper is officially out in a special issue focusing on intraspecific trait variation in plants. Here’s the abstract and a link.

Intraspecific trait variation influences physiological performance and fitness in the South Africa shrub genus Protea (Proteaceae)

Kristen M Nolting, Rachel Prunier, Guy F Midgley, Kent E Holsinger

Background and Aims

Global plant trait datasets commonly identify trait relationships that are interpreted to reflect fundamental trade-offs associated with plant strategies, but often these trait relationships are not identified when evaluating them at smaller taxonomic and spatial scales. In this study we evaluate trait relationships measured on individual plants for five widespread Protea species in South Africa to determine whether broad-scale patterns of structural trait (e.g. leaf area) and physiological trait (e.g. photosynthetic rates) relationships can be detected within natural populations, and if these traits are themselves related to plant fitness.


We evaluated the variance structure (i.e. the proportional intraspecific trait variation relative to among-species variation) for nine structural traits and six physiological traits measured in wild populations. We used a multivariate path model to evaluate the relationships between structural traits and physiological traits, and the relationship between these traits and plant size and reproductive effort.

Key Results

While intraspecific trait variation is relatively low for structural traits, it accounts for between 50 and 100 % of the variation in physiological traits. Furthermore, we identified few trait associations between any one structural trait and physiological trait, but multivariate regressions revealed clear associations between combinations of structural traits and physiological performance (R2 = 0.37–0.64), and almost all traits had detectable associations with plant fitness.


Intraspecific variation in structural traits leads to predictable differences in individual-level physiological performance in a multivariate framework, even though the relationship of any particular structural trait to physiological performance may be weak or undetectable. Furthermore, intraspecific variation in both structural and physiological traits leads to differences in plant size and fitness. These results demonstrate the importance of considering measurements of multivariate phenotypes on individual plants when evaluating trait relationships and how trait variation influences predictions of ecological and evolutionary outcomes.

Annals of Botany 127:519–531; 2021 https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcaa060

UConn Reads 2021 – Truth, Democracy, & Climate Change (the video)

Two weeks ago on the afternoon of March 25th, the UConn Humanities Institute hosted a panel discussion on Truth, Democracy, & Climate Change. Tom Bontly (Philosophy) moderated the panel, which included two distinguished philosophers, Elizabeth Anderson (University of Michigan) and Lee McIntyre (Boston University). For some reason, Tom also asked me to participate. After introductions and brief remarks, we had a lively discussion about why some people do not accept the evidence for human-caused climate change. Elizabeth mentioned, for example, Dan Kahan‘s idea that there are “conflict entrepreneurs” who purposely promote disinformation, not because it necessarily promotes the cause they appear to be supporting, but because they profit from the conflict in other ways. If you couldn’t join us on the 25th and you’re interested in learning more, you’re in luck. Like nearly every other seminar, meeting, or and panel in the last year, this one was held virtually. It was also recorded, and the edited video (with captions) is now available on YouTube.