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- AoB PLANTS
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Mutualisms are foundational components of ecosystems with the capacity to generate biodiversity through adaptation and coevolution and give rise to essential services such as pollination and seed dispersal. To understand how mutualistic interactions shape communities and ecosystems, we must identify the mechanisms that underlie their functioning. One mechanism that may drive mutualisms to vary in space and time is the unique behavioral types, or personalities, of the individuals involved. Here, our goal was to examine interindividual variation in the seed dispersal mutualism and identify the role that different personalities play. In a field experiment, we observed individual deer mice ( Peromyscus maniculatus ) with known personality traits predating and dispersing seeds in a natural environment and classified all observed interactions made by individuals as either positive or negative. We then scored mice on a continuum from antagonistic to mutualistic and found that within a population of scatter hoarders, some individuals are more mutualistic than others and that one factor driving this distinction is animal personality. Through this empirical work, we provide a conceptual advancement to the study of mutualism by integrating it with the study of intraspecific behavioral variation. These findings indicate that animal personality is a previously overlooked mechanism generating context dependence in plant–animal interactions and suggest that behavioral diversity may have important consequences for the functioning of mutualisms.more » « less
Auge, Gabriela (Ed.)Abstract Plant-population recovery across large disturbance areas is often seed-limited. An understanding of seed dispersal patterns is fundamental for determining natural-regeneration potential. However, forecasting seed dispersal rates across heterogeneous landscapes remains a challenge. Our objectives were to determine (i) the landscape patterning of post-disturbance seed dispersal, and underlying sources of variation and the scale at which they operate, and (ii) how the natural seed dispersal patterns relate to a seed augmentation strategy. Vertical seed trapping experiments were replicated across 2 years and five burned and/or managed landscapes in sagebrush steppe. Multi-scale sampling and hierarchical Bayesian models were used to determine the scale of spatial variation in seed dispersal. We then integrated an empirical and mechanistic dispersal kernel for wind-dispersed species to project rates of seed dispersal and compared natural seed arrival to typical post-fire aerial seeding rates. Seeds were captured across the range of tested dispersal distances, up to a maximum distance of 26 m from seed-source plants, although dispersal to the furthest traps was variable. Seed dispersal was better explained by transect heterogeneity than by patch or site heterogeneity (transects were nested within patch within site). The number of seeds captured varied from a modelled mean of ~13 m−2 adjacent to patches of seed-producing plants, to nearly none at 10 m from patches, standardized over a 49-day period. Maximum seed dispersal distances on average were estimated to be 16 m according to a novel modelling approach using a ‘latent’ variable for dispersal distance based on seed trapping heights. Surprisingly, statistical representation of wind did not improve model fit and seed rain was not related to the large variation in total available seed of adjacent patches. The models predicted severe seed limitations were likely on typical burned areas, especially compared to the mean 95–250 seeds per m2 that previous literature suggested were required to generate sagebrush recovery. More broadly, our Bayesian data fusion approach could be applied to other cases that require quantitative estimates of long-distance seed dispersal across heterogeneous landscapes.more » « less
Turnover in species composition and the dominant functional strategies in plant communities across environmental gradients is a common pattern across biomes, and is often assumed to reflect shifts in trait optima. However, the extent to which community‐wide trait turnover patterns reflect changes in how plant traits affect the vital rates that ultimately determine fitness remain unclear.
We tested whether shifts in the community‐weighted means of four key functional traits across an environmental gradient in a southern California grassland reflect variation in how these traits affect species' germination and fecundity across the landscape.
We asked whether models that included trait–environment interactions help explain variation in two key vital rates (germination rates and fecundity), as well as an integrative measure of fitness incorporating both vital rates (the product of germination rate and fecundity). To do so, we planted seeds of 17 annual plant species at 16 sites in cleared patches with no competitors, and quantified the lifetime seed production of 1360 individuals. We also measured community composition and a variety of abiotic variables across the same sites. This allowed us to evaluate whether observed shifts in community‐weighted mean traits matched the direction of any trait–environment interactions detected in the plant performance experiment.
We found that commonly measured plant functional traits do help explain variation in species responses to the environment—for example, high‐SLA species had a demographic advantage (higher germination rates and fecundity) in sites with high soil Ca:Mg levels, while low‐SLA species had an advantage in low Ca:Mg soils. We also found that shifts in community‐weighted mean traits often reflect the direction of these trait–environment interactions, though not all trait–environment relationships at the community level reflect changes in optimal trait values across these gradients.
Synthesis. Our results show how shifts in trait–fitness relationships can give rise to turnover in plant phenotypes across environmental gradients, a fundamental pattern in ecology. We highlight the value of plant functional traits in predicting species responses to environmental variation, and emphasise the need for more widespread study of trait–performance relationships to improve predictions of community responses to global change.
Intraspecific variation, including individual diet variation, can structure populations and communities, but the causes and consequences of individual foraging strategies are often unclear.
Interactions between competition and resources are thought to dictate foraging strategies (e.g. specialization vs. generalization), but classical paradigms such as optimal foraging and niche theory offer contrasting predictions for individual consumers. Furthermore, both paradigms assume that individual foraging strategies maximize fitness, yet this prediction is rarely tested.
We used repeated stable isotope measurements (δ13C, δ15N;
N= 3,509) and 6 years of capture–mark–recapture data to quantify the relationship between environmental variation, individual foraging and consumer fitness among four species of desert rodents. We tested the relative effects of intraspecific competition, interspecific competition, resource abundance and resource diversity on the foraging strategies of 349 individual animals, and then quantified apparent survival as function of individual foraging strategies.
Consistent with niche theory, individuals contracted their trophic niches and increased foraging specialization in response to both intraspecific and interspecific competition, but this effect was offset by resource availability and individuals generalized when plant biomass was high. Nevertheless, individual specialists obtained no apparent fitness benefit from trophic niche contractions as the most specialized individuals exhibited a 10% reduction in monthly survival compared to the most generalized individuals. Ultimately, this resulted in annual survival probabilities nearly 4× higher for generalists compared to specialists.
These results indicate that competition is the proximate driver of individual foraging strategies, and that diet‐mediated fitness variation regulates population and community dynamics in stochastic resource environments. Furthermore, our findings show dietary generalism is a fitness maximizing strategy, suggesting that plastic foraging strategies may play a key role in species' ability to cope with environmental change.
Dispersal is one of the primary mechanisms by which organisms adapt to spatial and temporal variation in the environment. Theory predicts that increasing spatiotemporal variation drives selection for offspring dispersal away from their natal habitat and one another. However, due to inherent difficulties in measuring dispersal in plant systems, there are few empirical tests of the extent to which this hypothesis can explain variation in seed dispersal strategies.
In this study, we characterized and compared the dispersal patterns of three closely related plant species that segregate across gradients in spatiotemporal variation in seasonal wetlands.
We tracked individual seeds as they dispersed in their natural habitats to measure seed dispersal distance (the distance travelled from the maternal plant) and inter‐seed spread (distances between dispersed seeds) and to identify the plant traits causing within‐species variation in seed dispersal. We also evaluated the seed traits causing within‐species variation in seed flight distance and terminal velocity in a wind tunnel and a drop tube, respectively.
We found that average seed dispersal distance was lowest in the species that occupies the most spatiotemporally variable habitat, contradicting our predictions; however, inter‐seed spread was lowest in the species from the least variable habitat, which aligned with our expectations.
The maternal plant and seed traits explaining intraspecific variation in seed dispersal varied among species as well as the method used to measure dispersal potential. Two traits had non‐intuitive effects on dispersal, including pappus size, which reduced seed flight distance in two of the focal taxa.
Overall, our results indicate that the differences we detected in seed dispersal among three closely related plant taxa can be only partially explained by current patterns of environmental variability in their respective habitats and that the traits driving within‐species variation in seed dispersal can evolve rapidly and change with the environmental context in which they are measured.
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