Plant demographic knowledge is biased towards short-term studies of temperate-region herbaceous perennials

Gesa Römer, Johan P. Dahlgren, Roberto Salguero-Gómez, Iain M. Stott, Owen R. Jones*


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Plant demography has a long history resulting in a large knowledge base. Comparative analysis of this information allows exploration of the drivers of demographic patterns globally and the study of life-history evolution. Studies aiming to generalise demographic patterns rely on data being derived from a representative sample. However, the data are likely to be taxonomically, geographically and methodologically biased. Matrix population models (MPMs) are widely-used in plant demography, so an assessment of publications using MPMs is a convenient way to assess the distribution of plant demographic knowledge using this modelling approach. We assessed bias in this knowledge using data from the COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database, containing MPMs for > 700 species. We show that tree species and tropical areas are under-represented, while herbaceous perennials and temperate areas are over-represented. There is a positive association between the number of studies per country and per capita GDP. Most studies have low spatiotemporal replication with 43% of studies conducted over < four years, and only 17% replicated across > three sites. This limited spatiotemporal coverage means existing data may not represent the environmental conditions the species experience. These biases and knowledge gaps inhibit theory development and limit current utility for identifying useful generalities for management decisions, such as typical responses to climate change. It is likely that similar biases extend to other demographic modelling tools such as integral projection models. We urge researchers to address these biases and close these knowledge gaps.

Udgave nummer1
Antal sider12
StatusUdgivet - jan. 2024

Bibliografisk note

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Although knowledge of global plant demography has undoubtedly improved with the extensive use of MPMs in the three decades since Franco and Silvertown ( 1990 ), it is still biased. It is founded on geographically biased data heavily focused on herbaceous perennials, leaving important knowledge gaps. Demographic research is constrained by funding, with the temporal length echoing typical grant and PhD tenure, with work concentrated in wealthy countries. We found no significant bias in conservation status or population growth rate, indicating that researchers focus neither on threatened species nor strongly trending populations.


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