Variation in growth rate and ecophysiology among 34 grassland and savanna species under contrasting N supply: A test of functional group differences

Peter B. Reich*, C. Buschena, M. G. Tjoelker, K. Wrage, J. Knops, D. Tilman, J. L. Machado

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Citations (Scopus)


We tested the hypothesis that biological trait-based plant functional groups provide sufficient differentiation of species to enable generalization about a variety of plant ecophysiological traits or responses to nitrogen (N). Seedlings of 34 North American grassland and savanna species, representing 5 functional groups, were grown in a glasshouse in an infertile soil with or without N fertilization. Forbs, C3 and C4 grasses, on average, had similar relative growth rates (RGR), followed in declining order by legumes and oaks, but RGR varied greatly among species within functional groups. All measured attributes differed significantly among functional groups, of these, only RGR and photosynthesis differed among functional groups in response to N. All groups, except the legumes, had significantly greater photosynthetic and respiration rates at elevated N supply. Principal components analyses and cluster analyses yielded groupings that corresponded only moderately well to the biologically based a priori functional groupings. Variation in RGR among species and treatments was positively related to net CO2 exchange (photosynthesis and respiration) and net assimilation rate, but unrelated to leaf area ratio. Photosynthetic and respiration rates were related to tissue %N among treatments and species. Our data indicate that RGR and related traits differ among the functional groups in significant ways, but in a complex pattern that does not yield simple generalizations about relative performance, controls on RGR, or response to resource supply rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-631
Number of pages15
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Ecophysiology
  • Functional groups
  • Functional types
  • Nitrogen
  • Relative growth rate

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