Plant Ecology

, Volume 220, Issue 10, pp 995–1008 | Cite as

Divergence of functional traits at early stages of development in Stipa tenacissima populations distributed along an environmental gradient of the Mediterranean

  • Khouloud KrichenEmail author
  • Alberto Vilagrosa
  • Mohamed Chaieb


Assessing differences in plant functional traits (PFTs) along climatic gradients is potentially useful for understanding variation within and across populations, and for predicting their responses to climate change. This study investigates the intraspecific variability of several PFTs in Stipa tenacissima (Alpha grass) seedlings from different populations distributed across a climatic gradient. Seven populations from Tunisia to Spain within a 100–600 mm/year rainfall range were selected. Seedlings from each population were grown in a common garden. We expected the functional characteristics to differ among seedling populations according to their climatic gradient. The response patterns were helpful to predict acclimation and fitness under future climatic conditions in these populations. The seedling development analysis showed differences in PFTs among S. tenacissima populations. The biomass traits analysis revealed that higher above-ground biomass was related to higher below-ground development. The leaf traits proved that seedlings with longer leaf length would have less sclerophyllous leaves, a trade-off between productivity and drought resistance. The root traits analysis reflects seedling strategies to maximize resource uptake efficiency. PFTs showed several significant relationships with climatic conditions. The less rainfall, the higher plant allocation to root systems exploring soil. Higher mean temperatures were related to reduced root/plant development. The PFT analysis proves that species followed the ‘optimal partitioning theory’, in that plants preferentially allocate biomass to acquire the resource that most limits their development. However, both the environmental conditions and genetic diversity in S. tenacissima populations influenced seedling growth and behaviour to face ongoing climate change.


Stipa tenacissima Population Allocation Functional variability Leaf trait Root trait 



We thank the ANSE (Asociación Naturalistas del Sureste) and CIEF-Banc de Llavors (Generalitat Valenciana) for facilitating seed sources from the Murcia and Valencia populations, respectively. Felipe Gil (SSTT, Generalitat Valenciana) is thanked for the nursery facilities (Guardamar forest nursery) during the cultivation period and experiment development. AV’s work was partially funded by Projects CGL-2011-30531-CO2-02 and CGL2015-69773-C2-2-P MINECO/FEDER by the Spanish Government, and by the Prometeo Program (FEEDBACK project, 2009/006) by the Generalitat Valenciana. CEAM is supported by the Generalitat Valenciana.

Supplementary material

11258_2019_969_MOESM1_ESM.docx (25 kb)
Supplementary file1 (DOCX 25 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Unit of Plant Biodiversity and Ecosystems in Arid Environments, Faculty of SciencesUniversity of SfaxSfaxTunisia
  2. 2.Mediterranean Center for Environmental Studies (CEAM Foundation)Joint Research Unit University of Alicante-CEAMAlicanteSpain

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