, Volume 167, Issue 4, pp 1103-1113
Date: 22 Jun 2011

Within- and among-species variation in specific leaf area drive community assembly in a tropical cloud forest

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Specific leaf area (SLA) is a key functional trait reflecting the trade-off between resource capture and conservation, and has been identified as playing an important role in plant community assembly. Mechanistic models of community assembly state that the assemblage of species in a local community is controlled by environment filters operating on functional traits. We measured within- and among-species variation of SLA, and environmental conditions in a tropical cloud forest to explore how variation in this functional trait contributes to community assembly. SLA variation at the species level was also decomposed into alpha (within assemblage variation), and beta (across assemblage variation) values. SLA decreased with increasing solar irradiance (approximated using plant height) within the three study sites, and differed among the three sites both for within- and among-species comparisons. Mean plot SLA, accounting for both within and among species across the three sites, increased significantly in relation to air temperature but not local photosynthetic photon flux density and soil total phosphorus. Alpha SLA decreased with increasing solar irradiance within the three sites and beta SLA differed among the three sites. Our results clearly demonstrate that light and air temperature are key environmental factors involved in organizing plant species within and among communities in tropical cloud forests. The strong relationship between both intra- and interspecific variation in SLA and environmental conditions strongly confirms the role of trait variation in the assembly of plant species in tropical cloud forest communities via environment filtering related to light availability and air temperature.

Communicated by Bernhard Schmid.