Elementomes and Traits: Investigating the correspondence between elemental composition and functional traits in plants and arthropods (E-TRAITS)


The elemental composition of matter determines its physical and chemical properties. Living matter is not an exception to this rule as evidenced by the widely known leaf economic spectrum, indicating that higher concentrations of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) relate to higher photosynthetic capacity in plants. Accordingly, the elemental composition of organisms (i.e., the elementome) has been suggested to be a good proxy of organismal functioning. However, the relationship between the concentration of elements other than C, N and P on organism traits has barely been explored beyond a few anecdotal cases. Hence, the main aim of E-TRAITS is to provide strong empirical evidence regarding the correspondence between organism traits and their elemental composition beyond that of carbon (C), N and P (such as micronutrients and trace elements). We hypothesise that the larger the difference in elemental composition between two organisms, the larger the difference in their functional traits will be. On the other hand, a considerable amount of N and P in organisms is stored as DNA, and a large proportion of genome has no clear biological function. Hence, E-TRAITS will also explore how genome size affects the elementome-traits coordination. To do so, E-TRAITS will work with plants (trees, shrubs and bryophytes) and arthropods in order to find universal patters between using two very distinct biological groups. E-TRAITS will consist of three work packages (WP). WP1 will sample a wide array of plants and arthropods, and will measure their elementomes, genome sizes and traits (i.e., metabolism, life history traits, morphological traits) in order to study their interspecific variability. WP2 will investigate intraspecific variability in elementomes and traits from plants and arthropods under natural (subpackage 2.1, based on the species collected in WP1) and experimental (subpackage 2.2) conditions. We will set up two experiments in Panamá, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, that will experimentally investigate how shifts in the environmental availability of nutrients affect traits and elementome plasticity in plants (using seedlings, experiment 1) and arthropods (experiment 2). Our results will provide robust evidence regarding the coordination between traits and elementomes beyond that of C, N and P, and will point out, for the first time, the role of genome size in shaping these relationships.

Funder: Agencia Estatal de Investigación
Type of project: Proyectos de Generación de Conocimiento 2022
Reference: PID2022-141972NA-I00
Funding: 200 k€
Host institutions:
Start date: 1 January 2024
End date: 31 December 2027
Working team:
Dr. Garcia-Porta
Dr. Anadon-Rosell
Dr. Liu
Dr. Cano-Rocabayera
Prof. Wright

Marcos Fernández Martínez
Marcos Fernández Martínez
Researcher - PI of the EDM research team

My research interests include global biogeochemical cycles, the role of nutrients on ecosystem functioning, forests and bryophytes