On the relationships between size and abundance in plants: beyond forest communities

Kelsey T. Dillon, Amanda N. Henderson, Alexandra G. Lodge, Nina I. Hamilton, Lindsey L. Sloat, Brian J. Enquist, Charles A. Price, Andrew J. Kerkhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The inverse relationship between size and abundance is a well-documented pattern in forests, and the form of size–density relationships depends on the balance between growth and mortality rates in the community. Traditionally, studies of plant size distributions have focused on single-species populations and forests, but here we examine diverse communities dominated by plants with varied life histories, including grasses, forbs, shrubs, and succulents. In particular, we test whether the parameters of the individual size distribution differ systematically across community types, whether they fit the contrasting predictions of metabolic or demographic theories, and whether they share a common cross-community scaling relationship with forest communities and crop populations. All thirteen of our study sites better fit the predictions of demographic equilibrium theory, but interestingly, fits of both demographic and metabolic models showed little systematic variation across community types, despite large differences in environmental conditions and dominant life forms. Finally, analysis of the cross-community scaling relationship demonstrates that natural and restored non-forest communities conform to patterns of size and abundance observed among forest, plantation, and crop systems. Taken together, our results suggest that common ecological mechanisms govern plant community size structure across broad environmental gradients, regardless of the dominant plant life forms or limiting resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02856
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


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