Functional traits explain both seedling and adult plant spatial patterns in gypsum annual species
Ecological processes such as seed dispersal or plant–plant interactions and environmental constraints such as climate or soil heterogeneity are known to influence establishment, and thus the spatial patterns of plant communities and populations. In this study, we hypothesized that key functional traits such as the specific leaf area (SLA), reproductive ratio (reproductive/vegetative biomass), seed mass and maximum plant height would influence the spatial patterns of individual species in annual, gypsophilous plant communities, and that these effects would be modulated by both the soil surface structure (biocrust) and climate (precipitation) conditions.We mapped the spatial patterns of all plants found in six 1 × 1 m plots (more than 1000 individuals per plot) in both the seedling (autumn) and adult stages (spring) under two biocrust experimental conditions (intact vs. disturbed biocrust) during two consecutive years which were contrasted in term of precipitation (dry year and wet year). To assess the spatial patterns of seedlings and adults, we fitted four different spatial point pattern models (i.e. Poisson, inhomogeneous Poisson, Poisson cluster and inhomogeneous Poisson cluster processes) to each of the 242 populations of the 26 most abundant species that had more than 15 individuals per plot.Most seedling populations exhibited clustered spatial patterns that persisted in the adult stage, which suggests that short-distance dispersal is an adaptive trait for soil specialists such as gypsophilous plants. One-third of the populations fitted an inhomogeneous model best but the physical structure of the biocrust was not related to them. More importantly, we found a connection between the functional strategies of species and the spatial distribution of plants. In particular, during the dry year, irrespective of the biocrust conditions, species with a high SLA and high Rep/Veg mainly exhibited clustered spatial patterns, whereas low SLA and low Rep/Veg were associated with random distributions. Species with heavy and light seed masses had random and clustered patterns, respectively. In both the dry and wet years, species with lower maximum heights had clustered patterns, whereas taller species exhibited random patterns. In addition, species with heavier seeds and greater maximum heights had the largest cluster sizes.Our results confirm that the spatial patterns of seedlings and adult plants are significantly determined by the functional strategy of each species.Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.
Comunidad de Madrid Government. Grant Number: REMEDINAL TE-CM (S2018/EMT-4338) GYPWORLD. European Comision. Grant Number: H2020-MSCA-RISE-2017-777803; GYPWORLD project Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad of the Spanish Government. Grant Number: AGORA-CGL2016-77417-P PID2020-114851GA-I00. Grant Number: Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación. Spanish Gover
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