Plant functional trait response to environmental drivers across European temperate forest understorey communities

S. L. Maes, M. P. Perring, L. Depauw, M. Bernhardt-Römermann, H. Blondeel, G. Brūmelis, J. Brunet, G. Decocq, J. den Ouden, S. Govaert, W. Härdtle, R. Hédl, T. Heinken, S. Heinrichs, L. Hertzog, B. Jaroszewicz, K. Kirby, M. Kopecký, D. Landuyt, F. MálišT. Vanneste, M. Wulf, K. Verheyen

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38 Citations (Scopus)
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Functional traits respond to environmental drivers, hence evaluating trait-environment relationships across spatial environmental gradients can help to understand how multiple drivers influence plant communities. Global-change drivers such as changes in atmospheric nitrogen deposition occur worldwide, but affect community trait distributions at the local scale, where resources (e.g. light availability) and conditions (e.g. soil pH) also influence plant communities. We investigate how multiple environmental drivers affect community trait responses related to resource acquisition (plant height, specific leaf area (SLA), woodiness, and mycorrhizal status) and regeneration (seed mass, lateral spread) of European temperate deciduous forest understoreys. We sampled understorey communities and derived trait responses across spatial gradients of global-change drivers (temperature, precipitation, nitrogen deposition, and past land use), while integrating in-situ plot measurements on resources and conditions (soil type, Olsen phosphorus (P), Ellenberg soil moisture, light, litter mass, and litter quality). Among the global-change drivers, mean annual temperature strongly influenced traits related to resource acquisition. Higher temperatures were associated with taller understoreys producing leaves with lower SLA, and a higher proportional cover of woody and obligate mycorrhizal (OM) species. Communities in plots with higher Ellenberg soil moisture content had smaller seeds and lower proportional cover of woody and OM species. Finally, plots with thicker litter layers hosted taller understoreys with larger seeds and a higher proportional cover of OM species. Our findings suggest potential community shifts in temperate forest understoreys with global warming, and highlight the importance of local resources and conditions as well as global-change drivers for community trait variation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-424
Number of pages15
JournalPlant Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


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