Linking intraspecific trait variability and spatial patterns of subtropical trees
The importance of intraspecific trait variability (ITV) to the spatial distribution of individual species is unclear. We hypothesized that intraspecific trait dispersions underlying niche processes deviate more from null model expectations, by reducing their spread (range and variance), kurtosis, and standard deviation of near-neighbor distance, for species with aggregated than those with random distributions. The link between species’ spatial distributions and ITV patterns was examined using an individual tree-based trait data set, in which specific leaf area, mean leaf area, leaf dry matter content, and diameter at breast height were measured for 18,773 stems of 45 species in a 4.84 ha mapped subtropical forest plot in China. The nearest-neighbor distance analysis showed that, of 45 species, 14 species were distributed in random and 31 species were distributed in aggregation, while no species was distributed in uniform in the plot. The dispersions of all studied traits in species with an aggregated distribution on average deviated more strongly from the null expectation than those in species with a random distribution and that the extent of deviation was negatively associated with the degree of spatial randomness across species. Our results indicate that niche processes are primarily responsible for the spatial structure of species with aggregated distributions, while stochastic processes drive those with random distributions. Our results highlight the fundamental role of ITV in shaping spatial patterns of co-existing species.