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Functional trade-offs increase species diversity in experimental plant communities

Authors


Correspondence: E-mail: Eyal.ben-hur@mail.huji.ac.il

Abstract

Functional trade-offs have long been recognised as important mechanisms of species coexistence, but direct experimental evidence for such mechanisms is extremely rare. Here, we test the effect of one classical trade-off – a negative correlation between seed size and seed number – by establishing microcosm plant communities with positive, negative and no correlation between seed size and seed number and analysing the effect of the seed size/number correlation on species richness. Consistent with theory, a negative correlation between seed size and seed number led to a higher number of species in the communities and a corresponding wider range of seed size (a measure of functional richness) by promoting coexistence of large- and small-seeded species. Our study provides the first direct evidence that a seed size/number trade-off may contribute to species coexistence, and at a wider context, demonstrates the potential role of functional trade-offs in maintaining species diversity.

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