Community Ecology

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 31–40 | Cite as

Functional traits shed new light on the nature of ecotones: a study across a bog-to-forest sequence

  • G. Brownstein
  • T. F. Döbert
  • L. R. Dobbie
  • N. H. Hashim
  • J. Bastow WilsonEmail author


Ecotones have long been a focus of ecological research, and there is considerable current interest in functional traits in community ecology. Yet, surprisingly, the functional trait approach has not been applied to ecotones. A bog-forest sequence in southern New Zealand was sampled with a grid of quadrats, and eight traits related to leaf function were measured on the 54 species found. Two ecotones were identified using moving-window analysis: Ecotone I was the transition from bog to edge forest, and Ecotone II was the transition from edge forest to tall climax forest. No strict ecotonal species were present. In contrast to theoretical predictions, species richness was not higher or lower in either ecotone, rather, both ecotones represented a transition in richness from one community to the other. It has long been said that ecotones are mosaics, but species mosaicity was no higher in either ecotone than in the adjacent communities, in fact it was lower in Ecotone I. Functional trait diversity decreased along the sequence from bog to forest, with no deviation in either ecotone. However, examining mosaicity in terms of traits, there was a steady rise in Ecotone I and, in conformance with ecotone / functional trait theory, a clear peak in Ecotone II. We conclude that the features claimed for ecotones are often not present, and whether they are present is dependent on the components measured: species vs traits. Here, the clearest patterns were seen in trait mosaicity, but even this differed markedly between the two ecotones. Generalisations about ecotones should be avoided; they will vary from ecotone to ecotone, and probably depend on the type of ecotone: anthropogenic, environmental, switch, etc.


Ecotonal species Functional diversity Mosaic Species diversity 



Detrended Correspondence Analysis


Leaf area ratio


Photosynthetic unit


Specific leaf area


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© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest 2013

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Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Brownstein
    • 1
    • 2
  • T. F. Döbert
    • 1
  • L. R. Dobbie
    • 1
  • N. H. Hashim
    • 1
  • J. Bastow Wilson
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Botany DepartmentUniversity of OtagowDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Sustainable Minerals InstituteUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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