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- Scientific Reports
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- National Science Foundation
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Trait-based analyses provide powerful tools for developing a generalizable, physiologically grounded understanding of how forest communities are responding to ongoing environmental changes. Key challenges lie in (1) selecting traits that best characterize the ecological performance of species in the community and (2) determining the degree and importance of intraspecific variability in those traits. Recent studies suggest that globally evident trait correlations (trait dimensions), such as the leaf economic spectrum, may be weak or absent at local scales. Moreover, trait-based analyses that utilize a mean value to represent a species may be misleading. Mean trait values are particularly problematic if species trait value rankings change along environmental gradients, resulting in species trait crossover. To assess how plant traits (1) covary at local spatial scales, (2) vary across the dominant environmental gradients, and (3) can be partitioned within and across taxa, we collected data on 9 traits for 13 tree species spanning the montane temperate—boreal forest ecotones of New York and northern New England. The primary dimension of the trait ordination was the leaf economic spectrum, with trait variability among species largely driven by differences between deciduous angiosperms and evergreen gymnosperms. A second dimension was related to variability in nitrogen to phosphorous levels and stem specific density. Levels of intraspecific trait variability differed considerably among traits, and was related to variation in light, climate, and tree developmental stage. However, trait rankings across species were generally conserved across these gradients and there was little evidence of species crossover. The persistence of the leaf economics spectrum in both temperate and high-elevation conifer forests suggests that ecological strategies of tree species are associated with trade-offs between resource acquisition and tolerance, and may be quantified with relatively few traits. Furthermore, the assumption that species may be represented with a single trait value may be warranted for some trait-based analyses provided traits were measured under similar light levels and climate conditions.more » « less
Under fire suppression, many tropical savannas transform into forests. Forest expansion entails changes in environmental variables and plant community structure. We hypothesized that forest expansion into savanna results in a shift in community‐weighted mean functional traits from stress tolerance to competitiveness, with generalist species having trait values intermediate between those of specialists of savanna and forest habitats.
We studied 30 plots distributed over three savanna–forest boundaries undergoing forest expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado, capturing a gradient from open savanna to recently formed forest. We measured functional traits of 116 woody species of savanna specialist, generalist and forest specialist functional groups and quantified changes in species composition and mean traits across the basal area gradient.
We identified two main axes of species traits. The first separated forest and generalist species from savanna specialists, with the latter possessing traits associated with resistance to disturbance and stress— such as thick leaves, thick bark, slower height growth and lower shade tolerance. Our second trait axis separated shrubs and understorey trees from pioneer species. Generalist species’ traits did not differ substantially from forest species, nor did they tend to have a typical pioneer strategy.
Community‐weighted trait means changed linearly with forest development. There was a steady increase in traits associated with competitive dominance rather than stress tolerance and fire resistance, indicating a wholesale shift in the selective environment. Several of these patterns—for example, increasing height and decreasing light requirements—are common in old‐field succession. In contrast to old‐field succession, we found that SLA increased, leaf thickness decreased and wood density stayed constant.
The assembly of forests appears to be shaped by environmental filters that contribute to a functional trajectory distinct from most other studied ecosystems. Our results highlight the importance of the functional composition of the early community and of the early colonizers of the open environment. Differences between savanna and forest specialists reflect the selective effects of the contrasting environments, while the traits of generalists—and their interaction with environmental filters—drive the dynamics of forest expansion.
Plain Language Summarycan be found within the Supporting Information of this article.
Climate change is stressing many forests around the globe, yet some tree species may be able to persist through acclimation and adaptation to new environmental conditions. The ability of a tree to acclimate during its lifetime through changes in physiology and functional traits, defined here as its acclimation potential, is not well known.
We investigated the acclimation potential of trembling aspen
Populus tremuloidesand ponderosa pine Pinus ponderosatrees by examining within‐species variation in drought response functional traits across both space and time, and how trait variation influences drought‐induced tree mortality. We measured xylem tension, morphological traits and physiological traits on mature trees in southwestern Colorado, USA across a climate gradient that spanned the distribution limits of each species and 3 years with large differences in climate.
Trembling aspen functional traits showed high within‐species variation, and osmotic adjustment and carbon isotope discrimination were key determinants for increased drought tolerance in dry sites and in dry years. However, trembling aspen trees at low elevation were pushed past their drought tolerance limit during the severe 2018 drought year, as elevated mortality occurred. Higher specific leaf area during drought was correlated with higher percentages of canopy dieback the following year. Ponderosa pine functional traits showed less within‐species variation, though osmotic adjustment was also a key mechanism for increased drought tolerance. Remarkably, almost all traits varied more year‐to‐year than across elevation in both species.
Our results shed light on the scope and limits of intraspecific trait variation for mediating drought responses in key southwestern US tree species and will help improve our ability to model and predict forest responses to climate change.
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Ahmed, Ferdous (Ed.)We addressed the hypothesis that intraspecific genetic variation in plant traits from different sites along a distance/elevation gradient would influence the communities they support when grown at a new site. Answers to this hypothesis are important when considering the community consequences of assisted migration under climate change; i.e., if you build it will they come?. We surveyed arthropod communities occurring on the foundation riparian tree species Populus angustifolia along a distance/elevation gradient and in a common garden where trees from along the gradient were planted 20–22 years earlier. Three major patterns were found: 1) In the wild, arthropod community composition changed significantly. Trees at the lower elevation site supported up to 58% greater arthropod abundance and 26% greater species richness than more distant, high elevation trees. 2) Trees grown in a common garden sourced from the same locations along the gradient, supported arthropod communities more similar to their corresponding wild trees, but the similarity declined with transfer distance and elevation. 3) Of five functional traits examined, leaf area, a trait under genetic control that decreases at higher elevations, is correlated with differences in arthropod species richness and abundance. Our results suggest that genetic differences in functional traits are stronger drivers of arthropod community composition than phenotypic plasticity of plant traits due to environmental factors. We also show that variation in leaf area is maintained and has similar effects at the community level while controlling for environment. These results demonstrate how genetically based traits vary across natural gradients and have community-level effects that are maintained, in part, when they are used in assisted migration. Furthermore, optimal transfer distances for plants suffering from climate change may not be the same as optimal transfer distances for their dependent communities.more » « less
Abstract Background and Aims The acquisitive–conservative axis of plant ecological strategies results in a pattern of leaf trait covariation that captures the balance between leaf construction costs and plant growth potential. Studies evaluating trait covariation within species are scarcer, and have mostly dealt with variation in response to environmental gradients. Little work has been published on intraspecific patterns of leaf trait covariation in the absence of strong environmental variation. Methods We analysed covariation of four leaf functional traits [specific leaf area (SLA) leaf dry matter content (LDMC), force to tear (Ft) and leaf nitrogen content (Nm)] in six Poaceae and four Fabaceae species common in the dry Chaco forest of Central Argentina, growing in the field and in a common garden. We compared intraspecific covariation patterns (slopes, correlation and effect size) of leaf functional traits with global interspecific covariation patterns. Additionally, we checked for possible climatic and edaphic factors that could affect the intraspecific covariation pattern. Key Results We found negative correlations for the LDMC–SLA, Ft–SLA, LDMC–Nm and Ft–Nm trait pairs. This intraspecific covariation pattern found both in the field and in the common garden and not explained by climatic or edaphic variation in the field follows the expected acquisitive–conservative axis. At the same time, we found quantitative differences in slopes among different species, and between these intraspecific patterns and the interspecific ones. Many of these differences seem to be idiosyncratic, but some appear consistent among species (e.g. all the intraspecific LDMC–SLA and LDMC–Nm slopes tend to be shallower than the global pattern). Conclusions Our study indicates that the acquisitive–conservative leaf functional trait covariation pattern occurs at the intraspecific level even in the absence of relevant environmental variation in the field. This suggests a high degree of variation–covariation in leaf functional traits not driven by environmental variables.more » « less