The functional basis of a primary succession resolved by CSR classification


  • Marco Caccianiga,

  • Alessandra Luzzaro,

  • Simon Pierce,

  • Roberta M. Ceriani,

  • Bruno Cerabolini

M. Caccianiga and A. Luzzaro, Dipto di Biologia, Sezione di Botanica Sistematica e Geobotanica, Univ. degli Studi di Milano, Via Celoria 26, IT-20135 Milano, Italy. – MC also at: Centre d'études nordiques, Univ. Laval, Sainte-Foy, Québec, Canada, G1K 7P4. AL, S. Pierce, B. Cerabolini and R. M. Ceriani: Dipto di Biologia Strutturale e Funzionale, Univ. degli Studi dell'Insubria, Via J.H. Dunant 3, IT- 21100 Varese, Italy ( – RMC also at: Centro Flora Autoctona, c/o Consorzio Parco Monte Barro, Fraz. Camporeso, IT–23851 Galbiate (LC), Italy.


CSR classification aims to apply CSR theory to large numbers of plants in situ, thereby allowing the investigation of communities within a functional context. However, it has only ever been applied to British vegetation, during the development of the technique, and has not yet been used to investigate specific vegetation processes. Here, a vegetation primary succession on a glacier foreland (Rutor glacier, Aosta, Italy) was used as a ‘test bed’ for the hypothesis that CSR classification can distinguish functional shifts during this vegetation process. Morpho-functional traits were used to calculate CSR coordinates for 45 species throughout the glacier foreland. General functional similarities between species were verified using principal components analysis (PCA). CSR classification demonstrated a functional shift from broadly ruderal pioneers towards stress-tolerance in late succession. PCA 1 correlated with S and R strategies, confirming this gradient. Till deposited at the retreating glacier terminus provides a substrate that can support faster growing species (with high foliar N contents), but is only tenable to those that can avoid physical disturbance via rapid phenological development (i.e. ruderals). Stress-tolerance and lower N contents in late succession suggest selection for efficient nutrient use. CSR classification demonstrated that competitive traits were ubiquitous but of much lesser importance than stress-tolerance or ruderalism (also correlating with PCA 2 and 3). The detailed visualization provided by CSR classification, combined with its mechanistic explanation of community change, demonstrate the promise of this methodology as a quantitative tool for comparative community ecology.