Intraspecific trait variation in grassland plant species reveals fine-scale strategy trade-offs and size differentiation that underpins performance in ecological communities

  • Bilton M
  • Whitlock R
  • Grime J
 et al. 
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Traits have been widely used in plant ecology to understand the rules governing community assembly, and to characterize primary strategies that define community structure and ecosystem properties. Relatively little is known as to whether the traits that are ecologically important at macroecological scales are either variable, or of consequence at fine scales within species. We measured trait variation within populations of the grassland plants Festuca ovina L. and Koeleria macrantha (Ledeb.) Schult., to test the hypothesis that fine-scale intraspecific trait variation drives local community structure. Both species showed large genotypic variation for all traits. Size-related traits of genotypes of K. macrantha observed under monoculture predicted their performance in model grassland communities that possessed both genetic and species diversity. The same correspondence was much weaker for the experimental population of F. ovina. A trade-off in allocation between shoot mass and relative allocation to reproduction was evident in the experimental population of F. ovina. Furthermore, both species showed evidence of a positive relationship between specific leaf area (SLA) and allocation to culm mass. This trait covariation indicates the existence of intraspecific trade-offs in life-history and growth strategies similar to those used to define primary plant strategies, which potentially buffers both species abundance and species coexistence against environmental challenges. Keywords: community ecology, genotypic diversity, perennial grasses, primary plant strategies, species coexistence, trait trade-offs

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  • Mark C. Bilton

  • Raj Whitlock

  • J. Philip Grime

  • Glenn Marion

  • Robin J. Pakeman

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