Plant clonality in a soil-impoverished open ecosystem: insights from southwest Australian shrublands

James L. Tsakalos, Gianluigi Ottaviani, Stefano Chelli, Alethea Rea, Scott Elder, Mark P. Dobrowolski, Ladislav Mucina

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1 Citation (Scopus)


BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Clonality is a key life-history strategy promoting on-spot persistence, space occupancy, resprouting after disturbance, and resource storage, sharing and foraging. These functions provided by clonality can be advantageous under different environmental conditions, including resource-paucity and fire-proneness, which define most mediterranean-type open ecosystems, such as southwest Australian shrublands. Studying clonality-environment links in underexplored mediterranean shrublands could therefore deepen our understanding of the role played by this essential strategy in open ecosystems globally. METHODS: We created a new dataset including 463 species, six traits related to clonal growth organs (CGOs; lignotubers, herbaceous and woody rhizomes, stolons, tubers, stem fragments), and edaphic predictors of soil water availability, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from 138 plots. Within two shrubland communities, we explored multivariate clonal patterns and how the diversity of CGOs, and abundance-weighted and unweighted proportions .of clonality in plots changed along with the edaphic gradients. KEY RESULTS: We found clonality in 65 % of species; the most frequent were those with lignotubers (28 %) and herbaceous rhizomes (26 %). In multivariate space, plots clustered into two groups, one distinguished by sandy plots and plants with CGOs, the other by clayey plots and non-clonal species. CGO diversity did not vary along the edaphic gradients (only marginally with water availability). The abundance-weighted proportion of clonal species increased with N and decreased with P and water availability, yet these results were CGO-specific. We revealed almost no relationships for unweighted clonality. CONCLUSIONS: Clonality is more widespread in shrublands than previously thought, and distinct plant communities are distinguished by specific suites (or lack) of CGOs. We show that weighting belowground traits by aboveground abundance affects the results, with implications for trait-based ecologists using abundance-weighting. We suggest unweighted approaches for belowground organs in open ecosystems until belowground abundance is quantifiable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)981-990
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


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