Individualistic responses of forest herb traits to environmental change

H. Blondeel, M. P. Perring, E. De Lombaerde, L. Depauw, D. Landuyt, S. Govaert, S. L. Maes, P. Vangansbeke, P. De Frenne, K. Verheyen

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14 Citations (Scopus)
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Intraspecific trait variation (ITV; i.e. variability in mean and/or distribution of plant attribute values within species) can occur in response to multiple drivers. Environmental change and land-use legacies could directly alter trait values within species but could also affect them indirectly through changes in vegetation cover. Increasing variability in environmental conditions could lead to more ITV, but responses might differ among species. Disentangling these drivers on ITV is necessary to accurately predict plant community responses to global change. We planted herb communities into forest soils with and without a recent history of agriculture. Soils were collected across temperate European regions, while the 15 selected herb species had different colonizing abilities and affinities to forest habitat. These mesocosms (384) were exposed to two-level full-factorial treatments of warming, nitrogen addition and illumination. We measured plant height and specific leaf area (SLA). For the majority of species, mean plant height increased as vegetation cover increased in response to light addition, warming and agricultural legacy. The coefficient of variation (CV) for height was larger in fast-colonizing species. Mean SLA for vernal species increased with warming, while light addition generally decreased mean SLA for shade-tolerant species. Interactions between treatments were not important predictors. Environmental change treatments influenced ITV, either via increasing vegetation cover or by affecting trait values directly. Species’ ITV was individualistic, i.e. species responded to different single resource and condition manipulations that benefited their growth in the short term. These individual responses could be important for altered community organization after a prolonged period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-614
Number of pages14
JournalPlant Biology
Issue number4
Early online date19 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


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