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Plant trait variation along an altitudinal gradient in mediterranean high mountain grasslands: Controlling the species turnover effect

AuthorsPescador, David S.; Bello, Francesco de; Valladares Ros, Fernando ; Escudero, Adrián
Issue Date2015
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE 10(3): e0118876 (2015)
AbstractAssessing changes in plant functional traits along gradients is useful for understanding the assembly of communities and their response to global and local environmental drivers. However, these changes may reflect the effects of species composition (i.e. composition turnover), species abundance (i.e. species interaction), and intraspecific trait variability (i.e. species plasticity). In order to determine the relevance of the latter, trait variation can be assessed under minimal effects of composition turnover. Nine sampling sites were established along an altitudinal gradient in a Mediterranean high mountain grassland community with low composition turnover (Madrid, Spain; 1940 m- 2419 m). Nine functional traits were also measured for ten individuals of around ten plant species at each site, for a total of eleven species across all sites. The relative importance of different sources of variability (within/between site and intra-/inter-specific functional diversity) and trait variation at species and community level along the considered gradients were explored. We found a weak individual species response to altitude and other environmental variables although in some cases, individuals were smaller and leaves were thicker at higher elevations. This lack of species response was most likely due to greater within- than between-site species variation. At the community level, interspecific functional diversity was generally greater than the intraspecific component except for traits linked to leaf element content (leaf carbon content, leaf nitrogen content, δ13C and δ15N). Interspecific functional diversity decreased with lower altitude for four leaf traits (specific leaf area, leaf dry matter content, δ13C and δ15N), suggesting trait convergence between species at lower elevations, where water shortage may have a stronger environmental filtering effect than colder temperatures at higher altitudes. Our results suggest that, within a vegetation type encompassing various environmental gradients, both, changes in species abundance and intra-specific trait variability adjust for the community functional response to environmental changes.
DescriptionReceived: December 30, 2013; Accepted: January 12, 2015; Published: March 16, 2015
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0118876
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