Despite increasing evidence of the importance of intraspecific trait variation in plant communities, its role in community trait responses to environmental variation, particularly along broad-scale climatic gradients, is poorly understood. We analyzed functional trait variation among early-successional herbaceous plant communities (old fields) across a 1200-km latitudinal extent in eastern North America, focusing on four traits: vegetative height, leaf area, specific leaf area (SLA), and leaf dry matter content (LDMC). We determined the contributions of species turnover and intraspecific variation to between-site functional dissimilarity at multiple spatial scales and community trait responses to edaphic and climatic factors. Among-site variation in community mean trait values and community trait responses to the environment were generated by a combination of species turnover and intraspecific variation, with species turnover making a greater contribution for all traits. The relative importance of intraspecific variation decreased with increasing geographic and environmental distance between sites for SLA and leaf area. Intraspecific variation was most important for responses of vegetative height and responses to edaphic compared to climatic factors. Individual species displayed strong trait responses to environmental factors in many cases, but these responses were highly variable among species and did not usually scale up to the community level. These findings provide new insights into the role of intraspecific trait variation in plant communities and the factors controlling its relative importance. The contribution of intraspecific variation to community trait responses was greatest at fine spatial scales and along edaphic gradients, while species turnover dominated at broad spatial scales and along climatic gradients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)