Climatic events inducing die-off in Mediterranean shrublands: are species’ responses related to their functional traits?
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Extreme climatic episodes, likely associated with climate change, often result in profound alterations of ecosystems and, particularly, in drastic events of vegetation die-off. Species attributes are expected to explain different biological responses to these environmental alterations. Here we explored how changes in plant cover and recruitment in response to an extreme climatic episode of drought and low temperatures were related to a set of functional traits (of leaves, roots and seeds) in Mediterranean shrubland species of south-west Spain. Remaining aerial green cover 2 years after the climatic event was positively related to specific leaf area (SLA), and negatively to leaf water potential, stable carbon isotope ratio and leaf proline content. However, plant cover resilience, i.e. the ability to attain pre-event values, was positively related to a syndrome of traits distinguished by a higher efficiency of water use and uptake. Thus, higher SLA and lower water-use efficiency characterized species that were able to maintain green biomass for a longer period of time but were less resilient in the medium term. There was a negative relationship between such syndromes and the number of emerging seedlings. Species with small seeds produced more seedlings per adult. Overall, recruitment was positively correlated with species die-off. This study demonstrates the relationship between plant traits and strong environmental pulses related to climate change, providing a functional interpretation of the recently reported episodes of climate-induced vegetation die-off. Our findings reveal the importance of selecting meaningful traits to interpret post-event resilience processes, particularly when combined with demographic attributes.
KeywordsClimate change Drought Extreme climate episode Recruitment Resilience
This study was supported by the projects CGL2009-08101, CGL2010-16373, CGL2012-32965, DIVERBOS (CGL2011-30285-C02-01 and C02-02), AGAUR 2009-SGR-00247 and 2014-SGR-00453, ICTS-RBD 38/2007, 27/2009 and 11/2013, ECO-MEDIT (CGL2014-53236-R), and by European FEDER funds. Personnel from the ICTS-RBD kindly supported the fieldwork. We thank C. Padilla, C. Navarro and M. Olmo for help during field sampling and trait measurements. Seed mass data were kindly provided by the Jardín Botánico de Córdoba (Francisca Herrera). Isotopic analysis was carried out in the Laboratorio de Isótopos Estables (LIE) de la Estación Biológica de Doñana, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, and leaf nitrogen measurement at the Servicio Central de Apoyo a la Investigación of the University of Córdoba.
Author contribution statement
F. L. conceived and designed the study. F. L., S. S.-M. and R. D.-D. performed the demographic surveys and E. G. R., I. M. P.-R., T. M. and R. V. carried out the measurements of plant functional traits. F. L. and E. G. R. analysed the data. F. L. and E. G. R. wrote the manuscript; other authors contributed to the discussion and interpretation of data and provided editorial advice.
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