, Volume 170, Issue 3, pp 767–775 | Cite as

Incorporating intraspecific variation in tests of trait-based community assembly

Community ecology - Original research


Environmental filtering and niche differentiation are processes proposed to drive community assembly, generating nonrandom patterns in community trait distributions. Despite the substantial intraspecific trait variation present in plant communities, most previous studies of trait-based community assembly have used species mean trait values and therefore not accounted for intraspecific variation. Using a null model approach, I tested for environmental filtering and niche differentiation acting on three key functional traits—vegetative height, specific leaf area (SLA), and leaf dry matter content (LDMC)—in old-field plant communities. I also examined how accounting for intraspecific variation at the among-plot and individual levels affected the detection of nonrandom assembly patterns. Tests using fixed species mean trait values provided evidence of environmental filtering acting on height and SLA and niche differentiation acting on SLA. Including plot-level intraspecific variation increased the strength of these patterns, indicating an important role of intraspecific variation in community assembly. Tests using individual trait data indicated strong environmental filtering acting on all traits, but provided no evidence of niche differentiation, although these signals may have been obscured by the effects of dispersal limitation and spatial aggregation of conspecific individuals. There was also strong evidence of nonrandom assembly of individuals within single species, with the strength of environmental filtering varying among species. This study demonstrates that, while analyses using fixed species mean trait values can provide insights into community assembly processes, accounting for intraspecific variation provides a more complete view of communities and the processes driving their assembly.


Environmental filtering Functional trait Intraspecific variation Old field Niche differentiation 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologySyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

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