Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 14, Issue 11, pp 2257–2269 | Cite as

Plant functional type approach for a functional interpretation of altitudinal vegetation zones in the Alborz Mts., Iran

  • Halime Moradi
  • Farideh Attar
  • Jens Oldeland


Mountains are an excellent system for evaluating ecological and biogeographical patterns. The obvious variations of the environmental factors along the altitude create different zones with adapted plant assemblages. However, few studies make use of plant functional type (PFT) for describing the variation of vegetation along altitudinal gradients. A PFT is a group of taxa with similar traits which respond similarly to the environmental gradients. In this study, we used PFTs as indicators describing five vegetation zones in the western Alborz Mt, Iran from 2000 – 4500 m. The plant trait data presented here covers six plant traits including growth form, stemleaf ratio, spinescence, hairiness, leaf consistency and plant height of 297 species. We considered altitude and soil factors to test the importance of environmental variables. We applied a multivariate analysis of three table ordination, i.e. environmental, species, and traits data to identify the PFTs. We further applied fourth-corner statistic to quantify trait-environment relationships. A constrained hierarchical clustering was used to detect five altitudinal zones and two zones of low and high nitrogen concentration. With regard to altitude we discuss the distribution of species, traits and PFTs. Growth form, plant height and stem-leaf ratio were significantly related to altitude and nitrogen. We identified 19 PFTs from which 18 were significantly associated to one or more altitudinal zones. While the lower altitudinal zones contain a variety of PFTs higher altitudes contain less PFTs with the highest altitude containing only one single PFT, tiny rosette plants with soft mesomorphic leaves. We identified grazing and climatic harshness as well as rockiness as the most important drivers of the distribution of plant functional traits and types across the studied gradient.


Elevation Indicator Species Analysis Ordination Leaf traits Trait-environment relationships 


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We are grateful to A. Darvishsefat (Khazar Mountain Team, Chalus) and the Vandarbon mountaineering federation staffs for their assistance during field visits. The authors are grateful to Prof. Dr. Sh. Zarre (University of Tehran) for determination and confirmation of several Astragalus species. We thank the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst) for a grant to H.M. (57214227). We further thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant Sciences, School of Biology, College of ScienceUniversity of TehranTehranIran
  2. 2.Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution of Plants, Biocentre Klein Flottbek and Botanical GardenUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany

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