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Variability of Forest Understory Plant Species’ Traits

Plant traits influence community assembly and ecosystem function, and can predict responses to changes in climate and disturbance. Trait-based approaches could be improved by resolving how traits vary within species across broad environmental gradients, and comparing this to variation among species. In a study of 11 traits of 57 understory species from 7 forest sites in the Pacific Northwest, scientists found that a majority of traits varied more among species than within species. Within-species variation was most important for traits linked to light, competition, and soil nitrogen, but sampling in a single set of conditions was generally sufficient for developing trait-based models of understory communities. Broader application of this finding could depend on the scope of inference or range of conditions examined, and may vary among community and ecosystem types.

Burton, J.I., Perakis, S.S., McKenzie, S.C., Lawrence, C.E., Puettmann, K.J., 2017, Intraspecific variability and reaction norms of forest understory plant species traits: Functional Ecology, v. 31, p. 1881–1893, https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.12898[Details]

Contact: Steven Perakis, FRESC, 541-750-0991, Profile

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