Intraspecific trait variability mediates the response of subalpine grassland communities to extreme drought events

Vincent Jung*, Cécile H. Albert, Cyrille Violle, Georges Kunstler, Grégory Loucougaray, Thomas Spiegelberger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Climate change is expected to increase the magnitude and the frequency of extreme climatic events such as droughts. Better understanding how plant communities will respond to these droughts is a major challenge. We expect the response to be a shift in functional trait values resulting from both species turnover and intraspecific trait variability, but little research has addressed the relative contribution of both components. We analysed the short-term functional response of subalpine grassland communities to a simulated drought by focusing on four leaf traits (LDMC: leaf dry matter content, SLA: specific leaf area, LNC: leaf nitrogen concentration and LCC: leaf carbon concentration). After evaluating species turnover and intraspecific variability separately, we determined their relative contribution in the community functional response to drought, reflected by changes in community-weighted mean traits. We found significant species turnover and intraspecific variability, as well as significant changes in community-weighted mean for most of the traits. The relative contribution of intraspecific variability to the changes in community mean traits was more important (42-99%) than the relative contribution of species turnover (1-58%). Intraspecific variability either amplified (for LDMC, SLA and LCC) or dampened (for LNC) the community functional response mediated by species turnover. We demonstrated that the small contribution of species turnover to the changes in community mean LDMC and LCC was explained by a lack of covariation between species turnover and interspecific trait differences. Synthesis. These results highlight the need for a better consideration of intraspecific variability to understand and predict the effect of climate change on plant communities. While both species turnover and intraspecific variability can be expected following an extreme drought, we report new evidence that intraspecific variability can be a more important driver of the short-term functional response of plant communities. Our results highlight the need for a better consideration of intraspecific variability to understand and predict the effect of climate change on plant communities. While both species turnover and intraspecific variability can be expected following an extreme drought, we report new evidence that intraspecific variability can be a more important driver of the short-term functional response of plant communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-53
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Ecology
Volume102
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

Keywords

  • Climate change experiments
  • Community-weighted mean traits
  • Drought
  • Grasslands
  • Intraspecific variability
  • Plant functional traits
  • Plant-climate interactions

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