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Differential effects of plant diversity on functional trait variation of grass species.

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2011
Author Gubsch Marlén, Buchmann Nina, Schmid Bernhard, Schulze Ernst-Detlef, Lipowsky Annett, Roscher Christiane,
Project Mechanisms underlying plant community productivity, stability and assembly (D-A-CH/LAE)
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Annals of botany
Volume (Issue) 107(1)
Page(s) 157 - 69
Title of proceedings Annals of botany
DOI 10.1093/aob/mcq220

Open Access


BACKGROUND AND AIMS Functional trait differences and trait adjustment in response to influences of the biotic environment could reflect niche partitioning among species. In this study, we tested how variation in above-ground plant traits, chosen as indicators for light and nitrogen acquisition and use, differs among taxonomically closely related species (Poaceae) to assess their potential for niche segregation at increasing plant diversity. METHODS Traits of 12 grass species were measured in experimental grasslands (Jena Experiment) of varying species richness (from 1 to 60) and presence of particular functional groups (grasses, legumes, tall herbs and small herbs). KEY RESULTS Grass species increased shoot and leaf length, investment into supporting tissue (stem mass fraction) and specific leaf area as well as reduced foliar δ(13)C values with increasing species richness, indicating higher efforts for light acquisition. These species-richness effects could in part be explained by a higher probability of legume presence in more diverse communities. Leaf nitrogen concentrations increased and biomas s : N ratios in shoots decreased when grasses grew with legumes, indicating an improved nitrogen nutrition. Foliar δ(15)N values of grasses decreased when growing with legumes suggesting the use of depleted legume-derived N, while decreasing δ(15)N values with increasing species richness indicated a shift in the uptake of different N sources. However, efforts to optimize light and nitrogen acquisition by plastic adjustment of traits in response to species richness and legume presence, varied significantly among grass species. It was possible to show further that trait adjustment of grass species increased niche segregation in more diverse plant communities but that complementarity through niche separation may differ between light and nutrient acquisition. CONCLUSIONS The results suggest that even among closely related species such as grasses different strategies are used to cope with neighbours. This lack in redundancy in turn may facilitate complementary resource use and coexistence.