Earth system models describe the physical, chemical and biological processes that govern our global climate. While it is difficult to single out one component as being more important than another in these sophisticated models, terrestrial vegetation is a critical player in the biogeochemical and biophysical dynamics of the Earth system. There is much debate, however, as to how plant diversity and function should be represented in these models.
A recent review in Annals of Botany traces the origins of the plant functional types (PFT) concept from its origin in the early 1800s to its current use in regional and global dynamic vegetation models (DVMs). Special attention is given to the representation and parameterization of PFTs and to validation and benchmarking of predicted patterns of vegetation distribution in high-latitude ecosystems. These ecosystems are sensitive to changing climate and thus provide a useful test case for model-based simulations of past, current and future distribution of vegetation.
Wullschleger, Stan D., Howard E. Epstein, Elgene O. Box, Eugénie S. Euskirchen, Santonu Goswami, Colleen M. Iversen, Jens Kattge, Richard J. Norby, Peter M. van Bodegom, and Xiaofeng Xu. (2014) Plant functional types in Earth system models: past experiences and future directions for application of dynamic vegetation models in high-latitude ecosystems. Annals of Botany 114 (1): 1-16. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcu077