Get access

An intraspecific application of the leaf-height-seed ecology strategy scheme to forest herbs along a latitudinal gradient


  • Pieter De Frenne,

  • Bente J. Graae,

  • Annette Kolb,

  • Anna Shevtsova,

  • Lander Baeten,

  • Jörg Brunet,

  • Olivier Chabrerie,

  • Sara A. O. Cousins,

  • Guillaume Decocq,

  • Rob Dhondt,

  • Martin Diekmann,

  • Robert Gruwez,

  • Thilo Heinken,

  • Martin Hermy,

  • Mathias Öster,

  • Robert Saguez,

  • Sharon Stanton,

  • Wesley Tack,

  • Margot Vanhellemont,

  • Kris Verheyen

P. De Frenne (, L. Baeten, R. Dhondt, R. Gruwez, W. Tack, M. Vanhellemont and K. Verheyen, Laboratory of Forestry, Ghent Univ., Geraardsbergsesteenweg 267, BE-9090 Melle-Gontrode, Belgium. – B. J. Graae, Climate Impacts Research Centre, Dept of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå Univ., Box 62, SE-981 07 Abisko, Sweden (present address: Dept of Biology, NTNU, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway). – A. Kolb and M. Diekmann, Vegetation Ecology and Conservation Biology, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, FB2, Univ. of Bremen, Leobener Str., DE-28359 Bremen, Germany. – A. Shevtsova, Research Group Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Antwerp, Campus Drie Eiken, Universiteitsplein 1, BE-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium (present address: Dept of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Umeå Univ., SE-901 87 Umeå, Sweden). – J. Brunet, Southern Swedish Forest Research Centre, Swedish Univ. of Agricultural Sciences, Box 49, SE-230 53 Alnarp, Sweden. – O. Chabrerie, G. Decocq and R. Saguez, Plant Biodiversity Lab, Univ. de Picardie Jules Verne, 1 rue des Louvels, FR-80037 AMIENS cedex, France. – S. A. O. Cousins, Dept of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm Univ., SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. – T. Heinken, Biodiversity/Systematic Botany, Univ. of Potsdam, Maulbeerallee 1, DE-14469 Potsdam, Germany. – M. Hermy, Div. Forest, Nature and Landscape, K. U. Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200E, BE-3001 Leuven, Belgium. – M. Öster, Dept of Botany, Stockholm Univ., SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. – S. Stanton, Div. of Plant Ecology and Systematics, K. U. Leuven, Kasteelpark Arenberg 31, BE-3001 Leuven, Belgium.


We applied the leaf-height-seed (LHS) ecology strategy scheme (a combination of three ecologically important traits: specific leaf area (SLA), seed mass and plant height) intraspecifically to two widespread European forest herbs along a latitudinal gradient. The aims of this study were to quantify LHS trait variation, disentangle the environmental factors affecting these traits and compare the within-species LHS trait relationships with latitude to previously established cross-species comparisons.

We measured LHS traits in 41 Anemone nemorosa and 44 Milium effusum populations along a 1900–2300 km latitudinal gradient from N France to N Sweden. We then applied multilevel models to identify the effects of regional (temperature, latitude) and local (soil fertility and acidity, overstorey canopy cover) environmental factors on LHS traits.

Both species displayed a significant 4% increase in plant height with every degree northward shift (almost a two-fold plant height difference between the southernmost and northernmost populations). Neither seed mass nor SLA showed a significant latitudinal cline. Temperature had a large effect on the three LHS traits of Anemone. Latitude, canopy cover and soil nutrients were related to the SLA and plant height of Milium. None of the investigated variables appeared to be related to the seed mass of Milium.

The variation in LHS traits indicates that the ecological strategy determined by the position of each population in this three-factor triangle is not constant along the latitudinal gradient. The significant increase in plant height suggests greater competitive abilities for both species in the northernmost populations. We also found that the studied environmental factors affected the LHS traits of the two species on various scales: spring-flowering Anemone was affected more by temperature, whereas early-summer flowering Milium was affected more by local and other latitude-related factors. Finally, previously reported cross-species correlations between LHS traits and latitude were generally unsupported by our within-species approach.