Issue 67: LPWG Functional traits working group

The mysterious world of legume functional traits


Renske Onstein (German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Germany)
Leonardo Borges (Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil)

Even after generations of work by an army of legume workers, the myriad and beauty of legume morphology, structure and function are still a mystery. How and when did all those traits evolve? What factors lie behind their evolution? How do they dictate and influence how legumes interact with the world?

Driven by such questions, the Legume Functional Trait Working Group was founded. The working group aims to increase communication between researchers studying legume traits to facilitate collaboration and avoid redundant data collection efforts. We also want to promote sharing and integration of data and collection protocols.

So far, there are several on-going projects in the legume trait world. Some of us are interested in the ecology of traits (e.g. herbivore defense – K. Dexter et al.; drought adaptation – F. Velasquez et al.), while others focus on the (macro-)evolution of traits in certain lineages (e.g. pod and leaf traits in Mimosoids/Albizia – R. Onstein/E. Ruttimann et al.; whole plant morphology – L. Borges). We study a range of traits – from spines to leaves to roots to fruits – and use a range of methods to obtain trait data, such as (automatically) screening monographs and floras, fieldwork, or assessing herbarium specimens, includ- ing online specimens. One novel approach being explored by W. Cardinal-McTeague and A. Bruneau, is assessing reflectance/spectral emission from herbarium samples to associate this with other, more difficult-to-measure traits. When optimized, this method has the potential to quickly assemble massive amounts of trait data from herbarium collections.

To coordinate on-going and future trait sampling efforts, we collectively keep track of on-going projects, share already published trait and wider morphological data, and maintain a list of traits, character states and their definitions. We also established a shared folder for depositing legume monographs for trait mining and as a valuable source and overview of systematic work across legumes.

We welcome your input and ideas in the legume trait working group, or simply to receive your favourite monographs. Please get in touch if you would like to become part of our group, are interested in working with traits, have ongoing trait-related projects or future plans, or simply to share a virtual cup of coffee and talk more about the mysterious world of legume traits. Our group is still growing, and we welcome anyone interested in legume (functional) traits to join our efforts. To get involved, please contact or

Exemplar Legume Functional Traits. Clockwise from top left: ant associations involving extrafloral nectaries, domatia and beltian bodies, Vachellia cornigera; growth forms: a fire-adapted geoxyle with an underground lignotuber, Calliandra longipes; armature: Prosopis ferox; nodulation: nodules of Lupinus nubigenus; seed dispersal syndromes: fleshy arils of Pithecellobium lanceolatum; pollination syndromes: humming bird pollinated flowers of Erythrina lanata. All photos Colin Hughes.