Functional trait space and redundancy of plant communities decrease toward cold temperature at high altitudes in Southwest China

Plant communities in mountainous areas shift gradually as climatic conditions change with altitude. How trait structure in multivariate space adapts to these varying climates in natural forest stands is unclear. Studying the multivariate functional trait structure and redundancy of tree communities along altitude gradients is crucial to understanding how temperature change affects natural forest stands. In this study, the leaf area, specific leaf area, leaf carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous content from 1,590 trees were collected and used to construct the functional trait space of 12 plant communities at altitudes ranging from 800 m to 3,800 m across three mountains. Hypervolume overlap was calculated to quantify species trait redundancy per community. First, hypervolumes of species exclusion and full species set were calculated, respectively. Second, the overlap between these two volumes was calculated to obtain hypervolume overlap. Results showed that the functional trait space significantly increased with mean annual temperature toward lower altitudes within and across three mountains, whereas species trait redundancy had different patterns between mountains. Thus, warming can widen functional trait space and alter the redundancy in plant communities. The inconsistent patterns of redundancy between mountains suggest that warming exerts varying influences on different ecosystems. Identification of climate-vulnerable ecosystems is important in the face of global warming.

Zhang, L., Liu, X., Sun, Z., Bu, W., Bongers, F.J., Song, X., Yang, J., Sun, Z., Li, Y., Li, S., Cao, M., Ma, K., & Swenson, N.G.
Science China Life Sciences