Intraspecific trait variation drives functional responses of old-field plant communities to nutrient enrichment

Andrew Siefert, Mark E. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Environmental changes are expected to shift the distribution of functional trait values in plant communities through a combination of species turnover and intraspecific variation. The strength of these shifts may depend on the availability of individuals with trait values adapted to new environmental conditions, represented by the functional diversity (FD) of existing community residents or dispersal from the regional species pool. We conducted a 3-year nutrient- and seed-addition experiment in old-field plant communities to examine the contributions of species turnover and intraspecific variation to community trait shifts, focusing on four key plant functional traits: vegetative height, leaf area, specific leaf area (SLA), and leaf dry matter content (LDMC). We further examined the influence of initial FD and seed availability on the strength of these shifts. Community mean height, leaf area, and SLA increased in response to fertilization, and these shifts were driven almost entirely by intraspecific variation. The strength of intraspecific shifts in height and leaf area was positively related to initial intraspecific FD in these traits. Intraspecific trait responses to fertilization varied among species, with species of short stature displaying stronger shifts in SLA and LDMC but weaker shifts in leaf area. Trait shifts due to species turnover were generally weak and opposed intraspecific responses. Seed addition altered community taxonomic composition but had little effect on community trait shifts. These results highlight the importance of intraspecific variation for short-term community functional responses and demonstrate that the strength of these responses may be mediated by community FD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-255
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • Community mean traits
  • Functional diversity
  • Plant traits
  • Seed dispersal
  • Species turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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