Authors:M. Gobbi, M. Caccianiga, B. Cerabolini, F. Bernardi, A. Luzzaro and S. Pierce
Little is known of how changes in plant function may influence adaptive traits amongst animals further up the food chain. We addressed the hypothesis that shifts in plant functional traits are associated with the adaptive function of animal species which have an indirect trophic link. We compared community characteristics and functional traits of two trophically detached biotic groups (vascular plants and carabid beetles) along a primary succession on terrain at the Cedec glacier in the Alps, where deglaciation events following post-Little Ice Age climate warmings are marked by moraine ridges. Morphofunctional traits were recorded: canopy height (CH), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), leaf dry weight (LDW) and specific leaf area (SLA) (for plants) and the number of brachypterous, autumn-breeding and predator species, and average body length (for carabid beetles). We found that vegetation cover and plant species richness gradually increased throughout early succession, with an abrupt increase between 40 and 150 years after deglaciation. At the early stages of the succession plant traits were typical of ruderal species (high SLA, low CH, LDW) whilst a shift in traits towards stress-tolerance (low SLA) occurred >150 years. Carabid communities and traits changed alongside changes in plant species richness and cover, with late successional vegetation hosting larger, more diverse, less mobile carabid species with longer larval development. Thus, ruderal plant strategies are the main contributors during vegetation development, determining vegetation quantity, and probably have the greatest impact on changes in carabid assemblages by regulating resource availability. Plants then require greater stress-tolerance to survive in stable vegetation, which supports high carabid diversity. This suggests that different plant strategies may affect ground beetle communities via contrasting mechanisms: both quantities (biomass, species richness) and qualities (functional traits, adaptive strategies) should be taken into account during studies of plant-animal interactions within ecosystems.