Response of forest plant species to land-use change: a life-history trait-based approach


K. Verheyen (fax +32 16 329760, e-mail


  • 1Classifying species by shared functional characteristics is important if common functional response groups are to be identified among different taxa.
  • 2We investigated plant traits that determine the response of forest plant species to land use changes using literature data. Sources from eight European countries and four North-eastern American states, comprising 20 field studies yielded information on 216 forest plant species. For these species, data on 13 life history traits were collected.
  • 3Trait correlation structure was similar in the European and American data-sets and corresponded well to those described in the literature. The European and American herbs and the European graminoids were clustered into distinct emergent groups based on their plant traits. The profiles of the European and American emergent groups were similar.
  • 4Herb species belonging to emergent groups characterized by low dispersability (i.e. large seeds, low fecundity, unassisted dispersal) were relatively slow colonizers. Dispersability (and not recruitment) seems to be a key factor limiting the colonization of some forest plant species. The relationship between dispersability and colonizing capacity was less clear for graminoids.
  • 5A life history trait-based approach offers good opportunities to gain insight into the mechanisms behind species response to land-use change.