Diversity of plant form and life history and their distribution onto different habitats suggest that plant functions should underlie this diversity, providing tools to successfully and differentially thrive in every habitat. The knowledge of these functions is then the key to understand community and ecosystem structure and functioning, something that attracted the interest and effort of many plant ecologists trying to establish patterns of adaptive specialization in plants.
This volume on Functional Plant Ecology is an updated version of a successful first edition in which we tried to put together chapters from all areas of plant ecology to provide readers the broadest view of functional approaches to plant ecology. Our aim was to gather original reviews with an attractive presentation, giving a comprehensive overview of the topic with a historical perspective when needed. The book is intended for a broad audience, from plant ecologists to students, with characteristics of both a textbook and an essay book. We were not interested in presentation of new experimental data, novel theoretical interpretations, or hypotheses, but rather asked the authors to provide easy-to-read, up-to-date, and suggestive introductions to each topic.
Deciding the book composition was not an easy task, as many attractive, substantial topics emerged at first glimpse. Finally, only a short number made their way into the book, and we are aware that many important questions have been left out, but practical and technical reasons limited the extent of the volume. The book follows a bottom-up approach, from the more specific, detailed studies focusing on plant organs to the broadest ecosystem approaches, each gathering chapters on the most outstanding aspects.
The history, aims, and potentials of functional approaches are established in the first chapter, which also sets the limits of functional plant ecology, a science centered in the study of whole plants and that attempts to predict responses in plant functioning caused by environmental clues, emphasizing plant influence on ecosystem functions, services, and products, and aiming to extract patterns and functional laws from comparative analyses. The search for these patterns is likely to be most effective if driven by specific hypotheses tested on the basis of comparative analyses at the broadest possible scale. Functional laws thus developed may hold predictive power irrespective of whether they represent direct cause-effect relationships. Yet, the nested nature of the control of functional responses implies uncertainties when scaling functional laws, either toward lower or higher levels of organization.
We would like to express our sincere thanks to the authors who contributed to this volume for their efforts in updating their chapters and for meeting the deadlines over already busy timetables. Finally, we want to thank John Sulzycki for his support throughout and Pat Roberson for her help and patience. All of them made possible and greatly improved the quality of this work.
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