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Intraspecific variability in functional traits matters: case study of Scots pine


Although intraspecific trait variability is an important component of species ecological plasticity and niche breadth, its implications for community and functional ecology have not been thoroughly explored. We characterized the intraspecific functional trait variability of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in Catalonia (NE Spain) in order to (1) compare it to the interspecific trait variability of trees in the same region, (2) explore the relationships among functional traits and the relationships between them and stand and climatic variables, and (3) study the role of functional trait variability as a determinant of radial growth. We considered five traits: wood density (WD), maximum tree height (H max), leaf nitrogen content (Nmass), specific leaf area (SLA), and leaf biomass-to-sapwood area ratio (B L:A S). A unique dataset was obtained from the Ecological and Forest Inventory of Catalonia (IEFC), including data from 406 plots. Intraspecific trait variation was substantial for all traits, with coefficients of variation ranging between 8 % for WD and 24 % for B L:A S. In some cases, correlations among functional traits differed from those reported across species (e.g., H max and WD were positively related, whereas SLA and Nmass were uncorrelated). Overall, our model accounted for 47 % of the spatial variability in Scots pine radial growth. Our study emphasizes the hierarchy of factors that determine intraspecific variations in functional traits in Scots pine and their strong association with spatial variability in radial growth. We claim that intraspecific trait variation is an important determinant of responses of plants to changes in climate and other environmental factors, and should be included in predictive models of vegetation dynamics.

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We thank Jordi Vayreda for his help querying the IEFC database and the elaboration of Fig. 1. Financial support was obtained from the Spanish Ministry of Education and Sciences via competitive grants CGL2007-60120, CGL2010-16373, CSD2008-0004 (Consolider Program).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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The authors declare that the experiment complies with the current laws of the country in which the experiment was performed.

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Correspondence to Isabelle Laforest-Lapointe.

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Communicated by Peter B. Reich.

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Laforest-Lapointe, I., Martínez-Vilalta, J. & Retana, J. Intraspecific variability in functional traits matters: case study of Scots pine. Oecologia 175, 1337–1348 (2014).

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  • Forest structure
  • Functional traits
  • Growth
  • Intraspecific variability
  • Pinus sylvestris