Exploring the generality of associations between plant functional traits: evidence within ecological groups along an altitudinal gradient in Hyrcanian forest

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Abstract

We hypothesized that associations among plant functional traits may differ within different ecological assemblages and plant communities. Association among plant traits including plant maximum height, seed weight, fruit type, pollination mode, mean leaf area, and leaf type were explored within life forms, plant strategy groups along with lowland and montane forest vegetation. In total, 83 sampling plots of 400 m2 were placed along a 2400 m altitudinal gradient in Hyrcanian forest. Importance-values of species within vegetation types were used for weighting data and trait associations were explored using categorical principal component analysis. A G-test and Fisher's exact test of independence were used to retest significance of the correlations. Different paired trait associations (association lines) including height–leaf, height–seed, height–pollination, leaf–seed, seed–fruit and fruit–pollination were observed and their ecological or physiological basis was discussed. Life forms, strategy types and vegetation types differed based on association lines. Some of the well-known trade-offs appear by increasing scale from ecological groups to vegetation types in Hyrcanian forest. The observed patterns of trait associations in Hyrcanian forest and several other ecosystems of the world call the generality of previously accepted trait correlations into question.

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