Plant Ecology

, Volume 218, Issue 4, pp 433–445 | Cite as

Functional traits, spatial patterns and species associations: what is their combined role in the assembly of wetland plant communities?



Studies of community assembly focus on finding rules that predict which species can become member of a plant community. Within a community, species can be categorized in two ways: functional groups classify species according to their functional traits, whereas generalized guilds group species based on their (co-)occurrence, spatial distribution and abundance patterns. This study searches for community assembly rules by testing for coherence among functional groups and generalized guilds, as well as for correlations between the individual functional traits and assembly features, in two wetland plant communities in South Africa. The classifications of functional groups and generalized guilds were not consistent. However, rhizome internode length was related to fine-scale spatial pattern, suggesting that in systems dominated by clonal species (including wetlands, where recruitment sites are strongly limited) community assembly may be strongly linked to colonization ability. Functional groups do not predict guilds in wetland plant communities, precluding their use as the basis for assembly rules. However, an explicit consideration of clonal strategies and their effect on species’ spatial patterns appears to be important for understanding community assembly in systems dominated by clonal plants.


Clonality Helophytes Functional groups Intrinsic guilds Wetlands Spatial autocorrelation Rhizomes 



The funding for this research has been granted by the University of the Free State Research Funds to ES. Many thanks to Piet-Louis Grundling, Nerosha Govender (Isimangaliso Wetland Authority) and Birdlife International who helped out with the access to the research sites. Field assistance was provided by Nozipho Ndwalane and Althea Grundling and assistance with the measurement of functional traits was provided by Nina van Vliet and Ngaka Mzizi. We gratefully thank Mark Dale for advice on dealing with spatial autocorrelation and David Zelený and Geofrey Mukwada for looking at an early draft of this manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of the Free StatePhuthaditjhabaSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Plant and Soil SciencesUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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