, Volume 179, Issue 2, pp 217-229

Herb abundance and life-history traits in two contrasting alpine habitats in southern Norway

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Colonisation is often a critical stage in the life history of plants, and recruitment success is expected to have a strong impact on plant frequencies especially among herbs. Several plant traits (seed size, plant height, leaf dry weight and specific leaf area) are suggested to be functionally important in early life stages, and the impact of such traits is expected to increase with habitat harshness. In this comparative study we examine the relative role of different plant traits for herb community patterns on both a local and regional scale in two contrasting alpine ecosystems in southern Norway: (1) a sub-continental region with more dry and productive, base-rich soils (Ho1, Hallingdal) and (2) an oceanic region, with humid acidic soils (Setesdal). Differences in species richness between regions were mainly due to higher herb richness in the base-rich region (n=55) than in the acidic region (n=13). Among traits, herb species seed weight was higher at the acidic site. The relative importance of traits for explaining herb local abundance and regional distribution tended to be stronger at the acidic site. No trait had a significant effect at the base-rich site, although seed weight and seed number were marginally non-significant. Plant clonality was positively related to local abundance and marginally to regional distribution at the acidic site. Plant frequency-trait correlations were generally higher in the acidic region then in the base-rich region. There was further a (marginal) increase of herbs with large seeds and with a dependence on sexual reproduction with increasing pH levels in Ho1. Soil pH was also the most important environmental variable for herb richness in Ho1, while no environmental variable was significantly related to herb richness in Setesdal. The study suggests that recruitment through seed is critical for the alpine herb community patterns especially in harsh habitats. Possible explanations for recruitment constraints include both soil acidity (low pH and Ca levels in addition to possible aluminium toxicity) and disturbance through grazing.