Publication details

Above- and belowground traits along a stress gradient: trade-off or not?



Year of publication 2023
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Oikos
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords belowground traits; coastal dunes; competition; habitat filtering; root traits; stress
Description The role of plant traits in shaping community assembly along environmental gradients is a topic of ongoing research. It is well accepted that plant traits of aboveground organs tend to be conservative in stressful conditions. However, there is limited understanding of how belowground traits respond. Plants may have similar strategies above and belowground, but an intriguing possibility is that there is a tradeoff between above and belowground traits of communities to both ensure efficient resource-use and limit niche overlap along the gradient. To test this, we asked whether the response of above and belowground traits of communities is coordinated or not along a stress gradient in Mediterranean sand dune communities. We analyzed 80 vegetation plots in central Italy to test for coordinated vs independent patterns in above vs belowground plant traits using community weighted mean and standardized effect size of functional richness. Our results show that plant communities close to the sea, which experience higher stress, were characterized by higher convergence towards aboveground resource conservation and conservative water-use strategies but belowground resource acquisition, consistent with a strong effect of habitat filtering and an above-belowground tradeoff favoring adaptation to harsh and dry conditions. At the opposite end of the gradient with lower stress, plants exhibited higher trait diversity for both above and belowground traits, but overall a dominance of aboveground fast resource acquisition and generally acquisitive water-use strategies, combined with conservative belowground strategies. This suggests that fast growth rate aboveground was compensated by more conservative fine-root strategies, but processes such as competition limited niche overlap overall. Our findings provide new insights into the relationship between functional traits and environmental gradients in plant communities, shedding light on the tradeoffs between the above and belowground dimensions.
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