Environmental filtering does not necessarily prevent trait divergence: a case study of the Xilin

Saruul Kang1, Jianming Niu1,2,*, Qing Zhang1, Dan Li1, Haijuan Ren1, Jing Ren1, Xuefeng Zhang1 and   2017-07-04 23:26:09

1 School of Life Sciences, Inner Mongolia University, 235 University West Road, Hohhot 010021, China

2 Sino-US Center for Conservation, Energy, and Sustainability Science, Inner Mongolia University, 235 University West Road, Hohhot 010021, China

*Correspondence address. School of life Sciences, Inner Mongolia University, 235 University West Road, Hohhot 010021, China. Tel: +86-471-4992735; Fax: +86-471-4992435; E-mail: jmniu2005@163.com, qzhang82@163.com

Journal of Plant EcologyVOLUME 10, NUMBER 3, PAGES 497–509

June 2017

doi: 10.1093/jpe/rtw050

Advance Access publication 23 May 2016

available online at academic.oup.com/jpe

Abstract

Aims

Understanding how environmental factors and human activity drive plant community assembly remains a major challenge in community ecology. Two opposing processes, namely deterministic environmental filtering and nondeterministic elements such as interspecies competition, can be quantified by analyzing trait distributions in the community-assembly process.

Methods

We examined the trait-mediated effects of environmental filtering and stochastic process and the distribution over time of nine traits related to vegetative growth, regenerative phase, dispersal capability, decomposition and interspecific competition in plant communities along a degradation gradient in the Xilin River Basin, Inner Mongolia, China. We analyzed the turnover of environmental trait filtering and the divergence/convergence of different traits along the degradation gradient.

Important Findings

Our results showed the following. (i) The patterns of trait distribution and filtering were strongly dependent upon the degradation gradient and trait types. Most traits were filtered intensely in degraded grasslands. (ii) Plants with two different strategies showed contrasting trait-distribution patterns. The traits that were related to biological matter cycling showed divergent patterns in highly degraded grasslands, while convergent patterns along the overall gradient were demonstrated in traits associated with other plant strategies. This suggests that the coexistence of multiple ‘biological matter cycling-related niches’ might be a basic structuring pattern of plant communities in our study area. (iii) The simultaneous occurrence of strong filtering and divergence revealed that environmental filtering does not necessarily prevent competition, and that different traits show different signatures.

Keywords: community assembly, convergence, degradation, grazing intensity, plant traits, typical grassland

Received: 23 November 2015, Revised: 12 May 2016, Accepted: 13 May 2016

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