Question: Land-use change has a major impact on terrestrial plant communities by affecting fertility and disturbance. We test how particular combinations of plant functional traits can predict species responses to these factors and their abundance in the field by examining whether trade-offs at the trait level (fundamental trade-offs) are linked to trade-offs at the response level (secondary trade-offs).
Location: Central French Alps.
Methods: We conducted a pot experiment in which we characterized plant trait syndromes by measuring whole plant and leaf traits for six dominant species, originating from contrasting subalpine grassland types. We characterized their response to nutrient availability, shading and clipping. We quantified factors linked with different land usage in the field to test the relevance of our experimental treatments.
Results: We showed that land management affected nutrient concentration in soil, light availability and disturbance intensity. We identified particular suites of traits linked to plant stature and leaf structure which were associated with species responses to these environmental factors. Leaf dry matter content separates fast and slow growing species. Height and lateral spread separated tolerant and intolerant species to shade and clipping.
Discussion and Conclusion: Two fundamental trade-offs based on stature traits and leaf traits were linked to two secondary trade-offs based on response to fertilization shade and mowing. Based on these trade-offs, we discuss four different species strategies which could explain and predict species distributions and traits syndrome at community scale under different land-uses in subalpine grasslands.