Authors:A. Catorci, F. Tardella, S. Cesaretti, M. Bertellotti, and R. Santolini
Since the early 20th century Patagonian arid steppes have been subjected to overgrazing that led to the degradation of plant communities. We hypothesized that the interplay among grazing history, plant-plant spatial interactions and species traits affects recovery and assemblage of shrub community after short-term abandonment in north-eastern Patagonian arid steppe (Peninsula Valdés, Argentina). We compared six sites (two in grazed pastures, and four in short-term ungrazed pastures, two of which intensively grazed, while the other two low intensity grazed in the past) with regard to: shrub cover percentage (10 × 10 m plots); shrub patch dimension, species richness, and spatial interactions among shrub species depending on patch dimension (patches sampled along transects); species richness and composition, vertical relations among species, and traits related to avoidance strategies and disturbance (1 × 1 m plots sampled along transects). Our results indicated that recovery processes in abandoned pastures act through the increase in shrub patch size, formation of new patches, change in patch composition and richness, and in within-patch relations among shrub species. No significant differences were found between sites subjected to different past grazing intensities. The increase in shrub cover was due to a significant expansion of the dominant shrub Chuquiraga avellanedae. The mechanism of new patch formation and spread was mainly based on facilitative processes acting between the dwarf shrubs, poorly palatable and disliked by wild herbivores, and young individuals of the dominant species emerging from their canopy. As patch size increased, dwarf shrubs were covered by taller ones or grew at the edge of the patch, indicating a phase of competitive exclusion. Plant-plant spatial interactions involved changes in the composition of plant traits linked to avoidance strategies, which were indicators of grazed conditions and of plots with shrub cover lower than 50%, while less need for defence against animal browsing was highlighted in ungrazed pastures and shrub-dominated plots. As the density of herbivores is recognized as the key factor in biodiversity conservation and ecosystem recovery, management plans devoted to conservation of biodiversity and forage resources should work to recreate grazing conditions close to the wild ones or to impose a short-term period of ecosystem rest that allows the plant community to recover.
Physical supporting or defense structures of plants, which decrease palatability, remain in plant tissue after a plant’s death and so decrease detritus decomposition rates. Consequently, palatability and detritus decomposition rate are expected to be positively correlated. Carbon is the main component of these restricting structures, whereas nitrogen is expected to increase plant attractiveness for herbivores. In this study, we tried to confirm the expected positive relationship between palatability and detritus decomposition rate and to find the species functional traits that are responsible for this concordant response. Some traits are shared by species as a consequence of their common phylogenetic history; consequently, we also studied the effect of phylogenetic correction on the expected relationships.We assessed the palatability of meadow plant species to a generalist slug
in an aquarium grazing experiment and detritus decomposition rate in a field litter-bag test. The two characteristics are positively correlated and the relationship is strengthened by phylogenetic correction. The relationship was strongest for the decomposition rates during the first three months of exposition, but weakened when the exposition period was from six months to a year. Palatability was negatively affected by plant carbon content, but no relationship was found between plant palatability and nitrogen content. Similarly, only the relationship of litter decomposition with litter carbon content was significant. The regression tree method was used to detect the influence of species traits on species palatability and detritus decomposition rate. In general, leaf dry matter content, litter carbon content and seed weight were chosen as the best predictors of plant palatability response. Results for the detritus decomposition rate response mainly reflect supporting or defensive structure contents. Litter carbon content, seed weight and plant height are the most apparent common predictors of these variable responses.In general, our study confirmed the positive relationship between plant palatability and detritus decomposition. Both plant tissue grazing and detritus decomposition are slowed down by plant tissue supportive structures, manifested as high dry matter content or high tissue carbon content.
Authors:S. Pellock, A. Thompson, K. He, C. Mecklin, and Jie Yang
Naturalization is the introduction and establishment of a nonnative species with sustainable populations in a novel environment. The success of nonnative species may be influenced by their relatedness to the native flora. Darwin proposed that if a nonnative plant species is introduced into an environment without native congeners, the nonnative species will have a greater chance of becoming naturalized. To test Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis, we compiled a Kentucky plant database consisting of 821 vascular plant species and subsequently selected species traits and distribution information to determine the effect of congeneric species and traits on the probability of successful naturalization and invasion. The predictors used include reproductive traits, growth form, abundance, habitat type, native congeners, and biogeographical origin. We fit three sets of generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) with a binomial family and a logit link. Backward selection based on minimizing the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) was used in the analyses. Our results from these three sets of models clearly indicate that the validity of Darwin’s hypothesis is invasion stage dependent. More specific, the naturalized and invasive models (predicting the probability of being naturalized and invasive respectively) did not support Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis. The number of native congeners had no effect on the likelihood that a particular species would naturalize and become invasive. Our results suggest that Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis is more relevant during the early stage of establishment as demonstrated by the native model (predicting the probability of being native) and it becomes irrelevant during the late stages of invasion as indicated by the naturalized and invasive models. Thus, it can be generalized that biotic interactions, especially competition, is a critical determinant of initial success for nonnative species in the recipient communities. Once established, the fate of non-native species during the late stages of invasion may be more related to other factors such as biogeographic origin and habitat conditions. Furthermore, we found reproductive traits such as flowering phenology and flower type are associated with invasion success. We also recognized contrasting traits between native and nonnative species, indicating niche differentiation between these two groups of species. Niche overlapping was found as well among species regardless of the status of being native or otherwise. Our study provides a novel approach to advance the understanding of phylogenetic relatedness between nonnative species and native flora by integrating traits and niche concepts at the regional scale.
Alpine grasslands harbour species-rich communities of plants and invertebrates. We examined how environmental variables and anthropogenic impact shape species richness and community structure of terrestrial gastropods in alpine grasslands in the Val Müstair (Eastern Alps, Switzerland). Gastropods were sampled using a standardised method at 76 sites spanning an elevation range from 1430 m to 2770 m. A total of 4763 specimens representing 52 species were recorded. Correspondence analysis based on presence/absence data revealed that the grassland gastropod community was structured in a complex way with elevation, wetness, grazing intensity and inclination of the sites as key factors, while abundance-based analysis identified the importance of the elevation and wetness of sites. Generalized linear model showed that species richness decreased with increasing elevation and increased with increasing soil pH. The grassland gastropod communities were characterized by a high beta diversity, as indicated by the SDR-simplex analysis. Species-specific traits of gastropods showed sensitivity to the environmental characters of the sites, as shown by a fourth-corner analysis.
Authors:L. I. Jacoboski, V. J. Debastiani, A. de Mendonça-Lima, and S. M. Hartz
Studies of functional diversity can help to understand processes that determine the presence of species in different habitats. Measurement of functional diversity in silviculture areas is important because different functional traits can show different responses to this landscape alteration, and therefore ecological functions can be affected. This study evaluated functional and taxonomic differences in bird assemblages in a native forest and eucalyptus plantations, and also assessed the functional nestedness of the bird species. We censused birds in eucalyptus plantations of four different ages, and also in a native forest. The results showed higher functional and taxonomic diversity of birds in the native forest than in plantations and higher similarity of functional traits between plantations of different ages. The high functional diversity in the native forest indicates a greater variety of functional traits, resulting in greater functional complementarity than in plantations. The association of some traits with the native forest, such as nectarivory and foraging in air, indicates the importance of native habitats in maintaining species and functions related to such traits. Already, species traits in eucalyptus plantations represent a subset of those that were recorded in the native forest, indicating that some functions are maintained in plantations. Our results demonstrate that the species occurrence in the plantations and native forest is determined by species traits. Thus, the maintenance of some functions in plantations is provided, although there is a higher functional diversity in native forest.
Authors:J. Tavella, A. P. Alvarez Pringles, and L. Cagnolo
A great challenge in ecology is to link patterns in nature with the factors that determine species coexistence and community structure. In general, these patterns have been associated with different environmental conditions and species traits. The coexistence of ant species could be affected by the availability of food and nesting resources, which depend on vegetation diversity and structural complexity. In this study, we attempt to reproduce, through null models, the properties of ant community structure in areas with different physiognomy of vegetation associated to different wildfire regimes. The null model construction considered ant traits such as occurrence frequency, body size, and nest type; and site characteristics such as vegetation height and extra-floral nectar availability, and their combinations. The null models were compared to observed species segregation and nestedness patterns. Ant species were more aggregated in space than expected by chance. Vegetation height and extra-floral nectar availability were included in the most successful models in predicting ant segregation and aggregation pattern. Furthermore, ants’ body size was enough to reproduce the nestedness of species distribution in sites. Our results suggest that under post-fire conditions, habitat complexity, resource availability and species traits such as body size may be the determinants of ant community structure.
Authors:F. Bello, J. Lepš, S. Lavorel, and M. Moretti
Measurements of trait community composition are known to be sensitive to the way species abundance is assessed, but not to what extent. This was investigated by considering two of the most commonly used indices of community trait composition, trait averages and functional diversity, in bee communities along a post-fire environmental gradient. The indices were computed using three different species abundance measurements (log and unlog number of individuals and species occurrence only) and 5 traits. For certain traits, the responses of the indices to fire varied according to how species abundance was measured. The measurements that took species abundance into account in the most distinct way (e.g., occurrence vs. unlog data) produced the least similar results for all traits. Species were then grouped into different classes on the basis of their relative abundance (i.e., dominants, subdominants, and rare species). As a result, the measure that attaches the highest importance to the abundance of species (unlog data) related mostly to the dominant species traits, while the measure attaching the lowest (i.e., species occurrence) related more to rare species traits. Species diversity was mostly independent of trait averages and functional diversity, regardless of the measure of species abundance used. We also quantified functional redundancy (i.e., the potential minus the observed functional diversity in each community). When more weight was attached to species abundance, redundancy decreased and tended to be less correlated with species diversity. Overall, the way species abundance is taken into consideration in indices of functional composition offers promising insights into the way community assembly mechanisms respond to environmental changes.