Differences in forest plant functional trait distributions across land-use and productivity gradients

Author(s): M. M. Mayfield, J. M. Dwyer, L. Chalmandrier, J. A. Wells, S. P. Bonser, C. P. Catterall, F. DeClerck, Y. Ding, J. M. Fraterrigo, D. J. Metcalfe, C. Queiroz, P. A. Vesk, J. W. Morgan
In: American Journal of Botany 100(7): 1356–1368, 2013
Year: 2013
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Landscapes, Stewardship, Urban
Link to centre authors: Queiroz, Cibele
Full reference: M. M. Mayfield, J. M. Dwyer, L. Chalmandrier, J. A. Wells, S. P. Bonser, C. P. Catterall, F. DeClerck, Y. Ding, J. M. Fraterrigo, D. J. Metcalfe, C. Queiroz, P. A. Vesk, J. W. Morgan (2013) Differences in forest plant functional trait distributions across land-use and productivity gradients. American Journal of Botany 100(7): 1356–1368, 2013

Summary

Premise of study: Plant functional traits are commonly used as proxies for plant responses to environmental challenges, yet few studies have explored how functional trait distributions differ across gradients of land-use change. By comparing trait distributions in intact forests with those across land-use change gradients, we can improve our understanding of the ways land-use change alters the diversity and functioning of plant communities.

Methods: We examined how the variation and distribution of trait values for seven plant functional traits differ between reference natural forest and three types of land-use conversion (pasture, old-field, or "legacy" sites—regrowth following logging), landscape productivity (NPP) and vegetation strata (tree or non-tree “understory"), in a meta-analysis of studies from 15 landscapes across five continents.

Key results: Although trait variation often differed between land-uses within a landscape, these patterns were rarely consistent across landscapes. The variance and distribution of traits were more likely to differ consistently between natural forest and land-use conversion categories for understory (non-tree) plants than for trees. Landscape productivity did not significantly alter the difference in trait variance between natural forest and land-use conversion categories for any trait except dispersal.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that even for traits well linked to plant environmental response strategies, broad classes of land-use change and landscape productivity are not generally useful indicators of the mechanisms driving compositional changes in human-modified forest systems.

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