Intra-Specific Leaf Trait Variation: Management and Fertility Matter More than the Climate at Continental Scales
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- Pakeman, R.J. Folia Geobot (2013) 48: 355. doi:10.1007/s12224-013-9168-y
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Plant functional traits have contributed to the understanding of how vegetation responds to management, community assembly and how vegetation controls ecosystem processes. As traits are time consuming to measure – and it may not always be feasible or practical to measure all traits within a study – great reliance has been put on using trait values from databases. This ignores intraspecific trait variability and the traits’ responses to the environment. This study uses trait values measured as part of a large-scale investigation of land use impacts on vegetation to assess how environmental factors, specifically climate, soil and management, control inter-population level intra-specific variation in key traits. There was clear evidence that intra-specific variation in leaf carbon content, leaf dry matter content, leaf nitrogen content and specific leaf area were all sensitive to edaphic factors and to management, but only leaf dry matter content was linearly affected by the climate (rainfall). There were also significant interactions between climate and species identity for leaf dry matter content and leaf nitrogen content, suggesting that species responses to the climate are not uniform or simple. The results of this study suggest that site fertility and management ought to be associated with trait data in databases to allow for the incorporation of intra-specific variation in analyses and that more research is needed to identify the shape of trait:climate relationships.