Disentangling functional trait variation and covariation in epiphytic lichens along a continent-wide latitudinal gradient
Characterizing functional trait variation and covariation, and its drivers, is critical to understand the response of species to changing environmental conditions. Evolutionary and environmental factors determine how traits vary among and within species at multiple scales. However, disentangling their relative contribution is challenging and a comprehensive trait–environment framework addressing such questions is missing in lichens. We investigated the variation in nine traits related to photosynthetic performance, water use and nutrient acquisition applying phylogenetic comparative analyses in lichen epiphytic communities on beech across Europe. These poikilohydric organisms offer a valuable model owing to their inherent limitations to buffer contrasting environmental conditions. Photobiont type and growth form captured differences in certain physiological traits whose variation was largely determined by evolutionary processes (i.e. phylogenetic history), although the intraspecific component was non-negligible. Seasonal temperature fluctuations also had an impact on trait variation, while nitrogen content depended on photobiont type rather than nitrogen deposition. The inconsistency of trait covariation among and within species prevented establishing major resource use strategies in lichens. However, we did identify a general pattern related to the water-use strategy. Thus, to robustly unveil lichen responses under different climatic scenarios, it is necessary to incorporate both among and within-species trait variation and covariation.
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