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Data from: The leaf economic and plant size spectra of European forest understory vegetation

Cite this dataset

Padullés Cubino, Josep et al. (2021). Data from: The leaf economic and plant size spectra of European forest understory vegetation [Dataset]. Dryad.


Forest understories play a vital role in ecosystem functioning and the provision of ecosystem services. However, the extent to which environmental conditions drive dominant ecological strategies in forest understories at the continental scale remains understudied. Here, we used ~29,500 forest vegetation plots sampled across Europe and classified into 25 forest types to explore the relative role of macroclimate, soil pH, and tree canopy cover in driving abundance-weighted patterns in the leaf economic spectrum (LES) and plant size spectrum (PSS) of forest understories (shrub and herb layers). We calculated LES using specific leaf area (SLA) and leaf dry matter content (LDMC), and PSS using plant height and seed mass of vascular plant species found in the understories. We found that forest understories had more conservative leaf economics in areas with more extreme mean annual temperatures (mainly Fennoscandia and the Mediterranean Basin), more extreme soil pH, and under more open canopies. Warm and summer-dry regions around the Mediterranean Basin and areas of Atlantic Europe also had taller understories with heavier seeds than continental temperate or boreal areas. Understories of broadleaved deciduous forests, such as Fagus forests on non-acid soils, or ravine forests, more commonly hosted species with acquisitive leaf economics. In contrast, some coniferous forests, such as Pinus, Larix, and Picea mire forests, or Pinus sylvestris light taiga, and sclerophyllous forests, more commonly hosted species with conservative leaf economics. Our findings highlight the importance of macroclimate and soil factors in driving trait variation of understory communities at the continental scale and the mediator effect of canopy cover on these relationships. We also provide the first maps and analyses of LES and PSS of forest understories across Europe and give evidence that the understories of European forest types are positioned along different major axes of trait variation.


All vegetation data used in this study were obtained from the European Vegetation Archive (EVA;; project number 82). Further details on data collection and associated databases can be found on the EVA website.

Trait data used in the study were obtained from the TRY database ( See "Material and Methods" in the reference paper for details on the processing of these data.

Usage notes

This dataset contains the list of plant occurrences and geographical and environmental attributes of the vegetation plots analyzed in the paper titled “The leaf economic and plant size spectra of European forest understory vegetation” by Padullés Cubino et al. (2021; Ecography; DOI: 10.1111/ecog.05598). 

The dataset contains 3 tables:

  1. “Metadata.csv”: It includes a description of the fields found in the two following tables.
  2. “Table_sites.csv”: It includes data on the standardized effect size of the community weighted mean ( and variance ( of the leaf economic spectrum (LES) and the plant size spectrum (PSS) of European forest understories. It also includes the environmental variables associated with the plots, their classification into different forest types according to the EUNIS 2017 classification, their location in 1o × 1o grid cells, and the reference to the original datasets archived in the European Vegetation Archive (EVA;
  3. “Table_taxa.csv”: It includes the list of angiosperm plant taxa in selected vegetation plots and their relative abundance cover.


Czech Science Foundation, Award: 19-28491X

Basque Government, Award: IT936-16

The Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Award: AAAA-A18118052400130-7

Basque Government, Award: IT936-16