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Interactive effects of landscape history and current management on dispersal trait diversity in grassland plant communities

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Summary

  1. Plant communities and their ecosystem functions are expected to be more resilient to future habitat fragmentation and deterioration if the species comprising the communities have a wide range of dispersal and persistence strategies. However, the extent to which the diversity of dispersal and persistence traits in plant communities is determined by the current and historical characteristics of sites and their surrounding landscape has yet to be explored.
  2. Using quantitative information on long-distance seed dispersal potential by wind and animals (dispersal in space) and on species' persistence/longevity (dispersal in time), we (i) compared levels of dispersal and persistence trait diversity (functional richness, FRic, and functional divergence, FDiv) in seminatural grassland plant communities with those expected by chance, and (ii) quantified the extent to which trait diversity was explained by current and historical landscape structure and local management history – taking into account spatial and phylogenetic autocorrel.
  3. Null model analysis revealed that more grassland communities than expected had a level of trait diversity that was lower or higher than predicted, given the level of species richness. Both the range (FRic) and divergence (FDiv) of dispersal and persistence trait values increased with grassland age. FDiv was mainly explained by the interaction between current grazing intensity and the amount of grassland habitat in the surrounding landscape in 1938.
  4. Synthesis. The study suggests that the variability of dispersal and persistence traits in grassland plant communities is driven by deterministic assembly processes, with both history and current management (and their interactions), playing a major role as determinants of trait diversity. While a long continuity of grazing management is likely to have promoted the diversity of dispersal and persistence traits in present-day grasslands, communities in sites that are well grazed at the present day, and were also surrounded by large amounts of grassland in the past, showed the highest diversity of dispersal and persistence strategies. Our results indicate that the historical context of a site within a landscape will influence the extent to which current grazing management is able to maintain a diversity of dispersal and persistence strategies and buffer communities (and their associated functions) against continuing habitat fragmentation.

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