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Plant functional traits suggest a change in novel ecological strategies for dominant species in the stages of forest succession


In forest succession, the ecological strategies of the dominant species that are based on functional traits are important in the determination of both the mechanisms and the potential directions of succession. Thirty-one plots were established in the Loess Plateau region of northern Shaanxi in China. Fifteen leaf traits were measured for the 31 dominant species that represented the six stages of succession, and the traits included four that were related to morphology, seven to stoichiometry and four to physiological ecology. The species from the different successional stages had different patterns of distribution of the traits, and different key traits predicted the turnover of the species during succession. The ash and the cellulose contents were key regulatory factors of species turnover in the early successional communities, and the trait niche forces in sugar and leaf dry mass content might become more important with the progression of succession. When only the three herb stages were considered, a progressive replacement of the ruderal by the competitive–ruderal species occurred in the intermediate stages of succession, which was followed by the stress-tolerant–competitive or the competitive-stress tolerant-ruderal strategists late in the succession. Thus, the different species that occurred in the different stages of succession shared different trait-based ecological strategies. Additionally, these differences occurred concomitantly with a shift toward competitive-stress tolerant-ruderal strategies.

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We thank Ren Jianyi and Cheng Yu for help during the fieldwork, and Li Qian and Zhang Ruichang for critical discussion. The study was financially supported by the S&T Basic Work Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology, China (2011FY110300), Forerunner Projects of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA05050301-4) and the National Science Foundation of China (41571500). The experiments comply with the current laws of China in which the experiments were performed.

Author contribution statement

Y. F. C. and M. Y. designed the study, conducted the analyses and wrote the paper. X. L. and M. W. helped completing the major fieldwork. J. S. X. prepared Fig. 5. R. C. Z. and P. C. W. provided help in the data analyses.

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Correspondence to Ming Yue.

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Communicated by Yu-Long Feng.

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Chai, Y., Yue, M., Wang, M. et al. Plant functional traits suggest a change in novel ecological strategies for dominant species in the stages of forest succession. Oecologia 180, 771–783 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3483-3

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  • Leaf traits
  • Loess Plateau
  • Trait distribution
  • Community assembly
  • Diversity