, Volume 186, Issue 3, pp 793–803 | Cite as

Linking intraspecific trait variability and spatial patterns of subtropical trees

  • En-Rong YanEmail author
  • Liu-Li Zhou
  • Han Y. H. Chen
  • Xi-Hua Wang
  • Xiang-Yu Liu
Community ecology – original research


The importance of intraspecific trait variability (ITV) to the spatial distribution of individual species is unclear. We hypothesized that intraspecific trait dispersions underlying niche processes deviate more from null model expectations, by reducing their spread (range and variance), kurtosis, and standard deviation of near-neighbor distance, for species with aggregated than those with random distributions. The link between species’ spatial distributions and ITV patterns was examined using an individual tree-based trait data set, in which specific leaf area, mean leaf area, leaf dry matter content, and diameter at breast height were measured for 18,773 stems of 45 species in a 4.84 ha mapped subtropical forest plot in China. The nearest-neighbor distance analysis showed that, of 45 species, 14 species were distributed in random and 31 species were distributed in aggregation, while no species was distributed in uniform in the plot. The dispersions of all studied traits in species with an aggregated distribution on average deviated more strongly from the null expectation than those in species with a random distribution and that the extent of deviation was negatively associated with the degree of spatial randomness across species. Our results indicate that niche processes are primarily responsible for the spatial structure of species with aggregated distributions, while stochastic processes drive those with random distributions. Our results highlight the fundamental role of ITV in shaping spatial patterns of co-existing species.


Aggregated distribution Environmental filtering Evergreen broadleaved forest Niche differentiation Stochastic processes 



The authors would like to thank Min Guo, Qiang Zhong, Meng Kang, Yue Xu, Yilu Xu, Xiaodong Yang, Haixia Huang, Zhihao Zhang, Baowei Sun, Wenji Ma, Qingru Shi, Minshan Xu, Yaotao, Zhao, Qingqing Zhang, and Arshad Ali for their assistance in the field and laboratory, and Eric Searle and Shekhar Biswas for editorial comments. We are also grateful to Fangliang He for advice on the mapping of the studied plot. This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 31670438 and 31770467).

Author contribution statement

ERY and HYHC designed the study and wrote the manuscript. ERY, LLZ, XHW, and XYL conducted the study. LLZ and HYHC analyzed the data.

Supplementary material

442_2017_4042_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1745 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Forest Ecosystem Research and Observation Station in Putuo Island, School of Ecological and Environmental SciencesEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Tiantong National Station for Forest Ecosystem Research, School of Ecological and Environmental SciencesEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Shanghai Key Lab for Urban Ecological Processes and Eco-Restoration, School of Ecological and Environmental SciencesEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  4. 4.Faculty of Natural Resources ManagementLakehead UniversityThunder BayCanada

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