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Keywords:

  • Grassland;
  • Grazing;
  • Herbaceous vegetation;
  • Life-history trait

Abstract. Previous work on trait correlation patterns has contributed to the identification of broad patterns of plant distribution along environmental gradients in vegetation. However, these general trends may conceal subtle mechanisms of response that are specific to particular types of disturbance. To address this, we propose a generic methodology for the analysis of traits, using herb-dominated vegetation as a model.

Hypothetical biological traits are identified for testing against disturbance gradients. The traits were selected for their perceived relevance to disturbance response generally, but also include a specific focus on domestic livestock grazing. The analysis is structured hierarchically to enable attributes to be analysed within major life forms. A different selection of traits is identified as being relevant to each major life form.

Flexible adaptation in the use of the trait set is suggested as a way of comparing functional response to disturbance over a series of locations. For example, assemblages will vary in their representation of the major life forms, and it may be relevant to analyse traits within a subset of these life-form groups. Because individual studies encompass a limited range of environmental variation, and local floras may be constrained by their evolutionary context, similar approaches need to be tested over a range of vegetation types and geographic situations. A significant advance in functional trait analysis could be achieved if individual studies provide explicit descriptions of their evolutionary and ecological context from a global perspective.