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Plant functional trait variation in relation to riparian geomorphology: The importance of disturbance



This study examined the patterns of plant functional trait variation in relation to geomorphology, disturbance and a suite of other environmental factors in the riparian margin of the Upper Hunter River, New South Wales, Australia. Vegetation was surveyed on three geomorphic surfaces (point bar, bench and bank) along a 5.5-km stretch of the Upper Hunter River. Functional traits relating to plant growth and reproduction were collected for the identified species. anova and principal components analysis were used to compare the trait assemblages of species associated with each geomorphic unit. Pearson's correlation coefficients were used to investigate trait variation with respect to environmental variables. There were clear differences in the plant functional trait assemblages associated with the three geomorphic units. Generally the point bar was associated with species that were herbaceous, with small seed mass, a short stature and a high specific leaf area (SLA). Conversely, the bench was associated with grasses that had unassisted seed dispersal and intermediate seed mass and SLA, while species on the bank had tall stature, large seed mass, a high SLA and a perennial life cycle. Variation along the primary gradient of plant functional trait composition was most strongly related to disturbance frequency and to a lesser extent soil nutrients and the proportion of clay and silt, while variation along the secondary gradient was associated with variation in substrate texture as well as soil nutrients.