Functional traits of woody plants: correspondence of species rankings between field adults and laboratory-grown seedlings?


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Abstract. Research into interspecific variation in functional traits is important for our understanding of trade-offs in plant design and function, for plant functional type classifications and for understanding ecosystem responses to shifts in species composition. Interspecific rankings of functional traits are a function of, among other factors, ontogenetic or allometric development and environmental effects on phenotypes. For woody plants, which attain large size and long lives, these factors might have strong effects on interspecific trait rankings. This paper is the first to test and compare the correspondence of interspecific rankings between laboratory grown seedlings and field grown adult plants for a wide range of functional leaf and stem traits. It employs data for 90 diverse woody and semiwoody species in a temperate British and a (sub)Mediterranean Spanish flora, all collected according to a strict protocol. For 12 out of 14 leaf and stem traits we found significant correlations between the species ranking in laboratory seedlings and field adults. For leaf size and maximum stem vessel diameter > 50 % of variation in field adults was explained by that in laboratory seedlings. Two important determinants of plant and ecosystem functioning, specific leaf area and leaf N content, had only 27 to 36 and 17 to 31 % of variation, respectively, in field adults explained by laboratory seedlings, owing to subsets of species with particular ecologies deviating from the general trend. In contrast, interspecific rankings for the same traits were strongly correlated between populations of field adults on different geological substrata. Extrapolation of interspecific trait rankings from laboratory seedlings to adult plants in the field, or vice versa, should be done with great caution.