College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science
Trait-based analyses provide powerful tools for developing a generalizable, physiologically grounded understanding of how forest communities are responding to ongoing environmental changes. Key challenges lie in (1) selecting traits that best characterize the ecological performance of species in the community and (2) determining the degree and importance of intraspecific variability in those traits. Recent studies suggest that globally evident trait correlations (trait dimensions), such as the leaf economic spectrum, may be weak or absent at local scales. Moreover, trait-based analyses that utilize a mean value to represent a species may be misleading. Mean trait values are particularly problematic if species trait value rankings change along environmental gradients, resulting in species trait crossover. To assess how plant traits (1) covary at local spatial scales, (2) vary across the dominant environmental gradients, and (3) can be partitioned within and across taxa, we collected data on 9 traits for 13 tree species spanning the montane temperate—boreal forest ecotones of New York and northern New England. The primary dimension of the trait ordination was the leaf economic spectrum, with trait variability among species largely driven by differences between deciduous angiosperms and evergreen gymnosperms. A second dimension was related to variability in nitrogen to phosphorous levels and stem specific density. Levels of intraspecific trait variability differed considerably among traits, and was related to variation in light, climate, and tree developmental stage. However, trait rankings across species were generally conserved across these gradients and there was little evidence of species crossover. The persistence of the leaf economics spectrum in both temperate and high-elevation conifer forests suggests that ecological strategies of tree species are associated with trade-offs between resource acquisition and tolerance, and may be quantified with relatively few traits. Furthermore, the assumption that species may be represented with a single trait value may be warranted for some trait-based analyses provided traits were measured under similar light levels and climate conditions.
Frontiers in Forests and Global Change
Montane Temperate-Boreal Forests Retain the Leaf Economic Spectrum Despite Intraspecific Variability.
Frontiers in Forests and Global Change,
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