Trait-based formal definition of plant functional types and functional communities in the multi-species and multi-traits context

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The concepts of traits, plant functional types (PFT), and functional communities are effective tools for the study of complex phenomena such as plant community assembly. Here, we (1) suggest a procedure formalising the classification of response traits to construct a PFT system; (2) integrate the PFT, and species compositional data to formally define functional communities; and, (3) identify environmental drivers that underpin the functional-community patterns. A species–trait data set featuring species pooled from two study sites (Eneabba and Cooljarloo, Western Australia), both supporting kwongan vegetation (sclerophyllous scrub and woodland communities), was subjected to classification to define PFTs. Species of both study sites were replaced with the newly derived PFTs and projected cover abundance-weighted means calculated for every plot. Functional communities were defined by classifications of the abundance-weighted PFT data in the respective sites. Distance-based redundancy analysis (using the abundance-weighted community and environmental data) was used to infer drivers of the functional community patterns for each site. A classification based on trait data assisted in reducing trait-space complexity in the studied vegetation and revealed 26 PFTs shared across the study sites. In total, seven functional communities were identified. We demonstrate a putative functional-community pattern-driving effect of soil-texture (clay—sand) gradients at Eneabba (42% of the total inertia explained) and that of water repellence at Cooljarloo (36%). Synthesis. This paper presents a procedure formalising the classification of multiple response traits leading to the delineation of PFTs and functional communities. This step captures plant responses to stresses and disturbance characteristic of kwongan vegetation, including low nutrient status, water stress, and fire (a landscape-level disturbance factor). Our study is the first to introduce a formal procedure assisting their formal recognition. Our results support the role of short-term abiotic drivers structuring the formation of fine-scale functional community patterns in a complex, species-rich vegetation of Western Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100787
JournalEcological Complexity
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


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