From a functional perspective, changes in abundance, and ultimately species replacement, during succession are a consequence of integrated suites of traits conferring different relative ecological advantages as the environment changes over time. Here we use structural equations to model the interspecific relationships between these integrated functional traits using 34 herbaceous species from a Mediterranean old-field succession and thus quantify the notion of a plant strategy. We measured plant traits related to plant vegetative and reproductive size, leaf functioning, reproductive phenology, seed mass, and production on 15 individuals per species monitored during one growing season. The resulting structural equation model successfully accounts for the pattern of trait covariation during the first 45 years post-abandonment using just two forcing variables: time since site abandonment and seed mass; no association between time since field abandonment and seed mass was observed over these herbaceous stages of secondary succession. All other predicted traits values are determined by these two variables and the cause––effect linkage between them. Adding pre-reproductive vegetative mass as a third forcing variable noticeably increased the predictive power of the model. Increasing the time after abandonment favors species with increasing life span and pre-reproductive biomass and decreasing specific leaf area. Allometric coefficients relating vegetative and reproductive components of plant size were in accordance with allometry theory. The model confirmed the trade-off between seed mass and seed number. Maximum plant height and seed mass were major determinants of reproductive phenology. Our results show that beyond verbal conceptualization, plant ecological strategies can be quantified and modeled.
Ecology – Ecological Society of America
Published: Feb 1, 2006
Keywords: allometry ; path analysis ; phenology ; plant size ; reproductive allocation ; secondary succession ; seed mass ; seed production ; structural equation modeling
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