Understory plant diversity is related to higher variability of vegetative mobility of coexisting species
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Theoretical studies claim that if co-occurring species have very different mobilities this will result in greater small-scale species richness, but empirical evidence is still lacking. We measured horizontal vegetative mobility (VM) of 48 herbaceous understory species and estimated small-scale species richness in early and late successional boreonemoral herb-rich coniferous forests in central Estonia. VM of erosulate growth forms was significantly higher than that of hemi-rosette and rosette growth forms. Erosulate species exhibited higher mobility in young stands, but their relative and total cover was considerably higher in old stands. Local plant richness (in 1 × 1 m plots) correlated positively with the variability of VM of species in a plot—larger differences in VM resulted in a higher number of coexisting species. Our results thus suggest that species differences in VM can contribute to small-scale coexistence by providing different ways to colonise empty space.