Plant functional traits and community assembly along interacting gradients of productivity and fragmentation

Felix May, Itamar Giladi, Michael Ristow, Yaron Ziv, Florian Jeltsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Quantifying the association of plant functional traits to environmental gradients is a promising approach for understanding and projecting community responses to land use and climatic changes. Although habitat fragmentation and climate are expected to affect plant communities interactively, there is a lack of empirical studies addressing trait associations to fragmentation in different climatic regimes.In this study, we analyse data on the key functional traits: specific leaf area (SLA), plant height, seed mass and seed number. First, we assess the evidence for the community assembly mechanisms habitat filtering and competition at different spatial scales, using several null-models and a comprehensive set of community-level trait convergence and divergence indices. Second, we analyse the association of community-mean traits with patch area and connectivity along a south-north productivity gradient.We found clear evidence for trait convergence due to habitat filtering. In contrast, the evidence for trait divergence due to competition fundamentally depended on the null-model used. When the null-model controlled for habitat filtering, there was only evidence for trait divergence at the smallest sampling scale (0.25. m. ×. 0.25. m). All traits varied significantly along the S-N productivity gradient. While plant height and SLA were consistently associated with fragmentation, the association of seed mass and seed number with fragmentation changed along the S-N gradient.Our findings indicate trait convergence due to drought stress in the arid sites and due to higher productivity in the mesic sites. The association of plant traits to fragmentation is likely driven by increased colonization ability in small and/or isolated patches (plant height, seed number) or increased persistence ability in isolated patches (seed mass).Our study provides the first empirical test of trait associations with fragmentation along a productivity gradient. We conclude that it is crucial to study the interactive effects of different ecological drivers on plant functional traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-318
Number of pages15
JournalPerspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Issue number6
StatePublished - 20 Dec 2013


  • Connectivity
  • Drought-stress
  • Habitat filtering
  • Limiting similarity
  • Null models
  • Plant height
  • Seed mass
  • Seed number
  • Specific leaf area (SLA)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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