Long term experimental drought alters community plant trait variation, not trait means, across three semiarid grasslands
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Background and aims
Grasslands are expected to experience droughts of unprecedented magnitude and duration in this century. Plant traits can be useful for understanding community and ecosystem responses to climate extremes. Few studies, however, have investigated the response of community-scale traits to extreme drought on broad spatial/temporal scales, with even less research on the relative contribution of species turnover vs. intraspecific trait variation to such responses.
We experimentally removed ~66% of growing season rainfall for three years across three semi-arid grasslands of northern China and tracked changes in community functional composition, defined as the community mean and variation of several leaf economic traits.
Community trait variations were more sensitive to drought than community trait means, which suggests this component of functional composition may be a better indicator of initial community drought responses than trait values themselves. The greatest change in trait variation was observed at the high aridity site and was driven largely by intraspecific trait variability. Apart from specific leaf area, trait variability increased with increasing aridity across sites, largely due to species turnover. Variations in soil moisture and fertility likely mediated the responses of community trait variations to water stress.
These results highlight the importance of measuring community trait variability in response to drought and support the well-documented pattern of increased community drought sensitivity of more arid ecosystems.
KeywordsClimate change Plant functional traits Grasslands Intraspecific trait variability Species turnover
This study was supported by funding from National Natural Science Foundation of China (41603080, 41600302, 41622103, 31822006 and 41320104002), National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0500601 and 2016YFC0500602), and Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academic of Sciences (XDA23080401). We thank all who worked in Extreme Drought in Grasslands Experiment (EDGE) project for assistance in planning and conducting the field experiment. Qiang Yu designed the experiment, all questions and correspondence about the experiment should be forwarded to him (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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