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Variations in functional diversity in snowbed plant communities determining snowbed continuity


Snowbed habitats are home to plant species that have adapted to particular environmental conditions (i.e. long-lasting snow cover and short growing seasons). The presence of most of these species is dependent on a long period of snow cover and so their conservation may well depend in the future on their ability to adapt to the effects of climate change. The aim of this study was to assess the persistence of snowbed communities using functional trait and functional diversity indices. We used data for plant species abundances from 32 snowbeds in Andorra (Pyrenees) classified according to certain environmental variables (elevation, exposure, soil type and temperature) and snow cover duration. Nine functional traits were used to evaluate the functional diversity, which was characterised as consisting of functional richness, functional evenness, functional dispersion, functional divergence and the community-weighted mean trait values. In two snowbeds, plant traits were also recorded and variation analysed along a snowmelt gradient. We found that snowbed specialist species had functional traits that were well adapted to the particular abiotic conditions of snowbed habitats but that there was a predominance of the functional traits of grass species in species originating in neighbouring communities. We found less functional richness, fewer strategies and lower competitive ability in the adapted species as the severity of the abiotic conditions increased. Snowbed specialist species appear to be less sensitive to the length of the growing season than species from neighbouring communities. Our results suggest that non-specialist species will tend to appear more frequently in those snowbed habitats affected by the reduction in snow cover duration.

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The authors are grateful to Michael Lockwood for the linguistic corrections. The authors were funded by Spanish Government grant CGL2010-17172/BOS, Catalan Government grant SGR 2009-458 and European Government Synergy-ERC grant 610028 IMBALANCE-P. The study was supported by the TRY initiative on plant traits ( The TRY initiative and database is hosted, developed and maintained by J. Kattge and G. Bönisch (Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany). TRY is supported by DIVERSITAS, IGBP, the Global Land Project, the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) via its program QUEST (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System), the French Foundation for Biodiversity Research (FRB) and GIS “Climat, Environnement et Société” France.

Author information

Correspondence to M. Domènech.

Additional information

Communicated by Christian Rixen.


Appendix 1

See Table 2.

Table 2 Topographic (elevation and exposure), snow cover duration, average summer air temperature (June, July and August) and soil-type characteristics for the 32 Andorran snowbeds studied

Appendix 2

See Table 3.

Table 3 Functional trait attributes and values for the plant species found in Andorran snowbed communities

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Komac, B., Pladevall, C., Peñuelas, J. et al. Variations in functional diversity in snowbed plant communities determining snowbed continuity. Plant Ecol 216, 1257–1274 (2015).

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  • Pyrenees
  • Snowbeds
  • Climate change
  • Functional diversity
  • Functional traits