What makes a plant species specialist in mixed broad-leaved deciduous forests?
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Knowledge about relationships between specialization degree of species, i.e. the width of their realized niche and functional traits, may have important implications for the assessment of future population developments under environmental change. In this study, we used a recently introduced method to calculate ecological niche widths of plant species in mixed broad-leaved deciduous forests and to investigate the dependence between niche widths of plants and their functional traits and Ellenberg indicator values. The research is based on a dataset of 4556 phytosociological relevés of mixed broad-leaved deciduous forests in Slovenia. We calculated theta indices for 326 species, which ranks them along a continuous gradient of habitat specialization. For 272 species, we compiled 26 functional traits and Ellenberg indicator values. We found some significant correlations between theta indices of species and their functional traits and Ellenberg indicator values; habitat specialists thrive primarily on the highest altitudes, on colder, dry sites and achieve the age of first flowering later than generalists. They also have smaller seed diameter, lower leaf dry matter content, lower mean canopy height and bigger specific leaf area than generalists. Two species groups, chamaephytes and spring green species, are particularly characterized as specialist species. The added value of our work is in complementing the knowledge about the niche differentiating along different environmental gradients and species coexistence in mixed broad-leaved deciduous forests.
KeywordsNiche width Functional traits Ecological indicator value Habitat specialism Deciduous forest Vegetation ecology
We would like to thank Martin Cregeen and Urša Marinšek who kindly reviewed our English. We would also like to thank two anonymous referees whose comments improved the manuscript. This work was funded by the ARRS (Slovenian Research Agency) Grant P1-0236.
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