, Volume 189, Issue 4, pp 1017–1026 | Cite as

Species-specific trait–environment relationships among populations of widespread grass species

  • Carla M. RoybalEmail author
  • Bradley J. Butterfield
Community ecology – original research


Intraspecific trait variation can be substantial and is driven by many factors. To develop predictive models of intraspecific trait variation, an understanding of the drivers of that variation is essential. At fairly broad scales, differences in the environment are expected to drive genetic variation in functional traits among populations. To isolate this genetic variability, we conducted a greenhouse common garden experiment using nine grass species native to the western United States. We assessed relationships between several root, leaf, and whole plant traits and a number of environmental conditions from the source population locations, including aspects of temperature, precipitation, vapor pressure deficit and soil moisture. We tested the hypotheses that (1) above- and belowground functional traits vary significantly within and among species, and (2) trait–environment relationships among populations of a species are consistent among species. First, we found that trait variation between species ranged from 13 to 77%, while trait variation within species ranged from 11 to nearly 39%. Traits related to overall plant size and growth rate exhibited the greatest intraspecific variation, and root traits the least variation. Second, while we found significant trait–environment relationships, they were highly variable among species. The magnitude of intraspecific trait variability found in this study indicates significant local adaptation with respect to specific trait–environment combinations, but that characterizing trait–environment relationships requires species-specific measurements and models.


Functional trait Intraspecific trait variation Trait–environment correlations Poaceae Belowground traits 



We thank Troy Wood and Rachel Hosna for assistance in obtaining Seeds of Success materials and information, Phil Patterson for greenhouse coordination, Aleydis Estrada and Arcelia Gastelum for lab work and a few dozen Northern Arizona University undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and the United States Geological Survey-Southwest Biological Science Center employees who helped harvest. Funding was provided by the Bureau of Land Management Colorado Plateau Native Plants Program and Great Basin Native Plants Project.

Author contribution statement

CMR and BJB conceived of the project, CMR orchestrated the greenhouse harvest, both CMR and BJB participated in the harvest. CMR wrote the initial manuscript, BJB provided revisions and suggestions.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research and Department of Biological SciencesNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

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