Independent evolution of leaf and root traits within and among temperate grassland plant communities

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  • In this study, we used data from temperate grassland plant communities in Alberta, Canada to test two longstanding hypotheses in ecology: 1) that there has been correlated evolution of the leaves and roots of plants due to selection for an integrated whole-plant resource uptake strategy, and 2) that trait diversity in ecological communities is generated by adaptations to the conditions in different habitats. We tested the first hypothesis using phylogenetic comparative methods to test for evidence of correlated evolution of suites of leaf and root functional traits in these grasslands. There were consistent evolutionary correlations among traits related to plant resource uptake strategies within leaf tissues, and within root tissues. In contrast, there were inconsistent correlations between the traits of leaves and the traits of roots, suggesting different evolutionary pressures on the above and belowground components of plant morphology. To test the second hypothesis, we evaluated the relative importance of two components of trait diversity: within-community variation (species trait values relative to co-occurring species; a traits) and among-community variation (the average trait value in communities where species occur; b traits). Trait diversity was mostly explained by variation among co-occurring species, not among-communities. Additionally, there was a phylogenetic signal in the within-community trait values of species relative to co-occurring taxa, but not in their habitat associations or among-community trait variation. These results suggest that sorting of pre-existing trait variation into local communities can explain the leaf and root trait diversity in these grasslands.

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    Article (Published)
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    © 2011 Public Library of Science. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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    • Kembel, S. W., & Cahill, J. F. (2011). Independent evolution of leaf and root traits within and among temperate grassland plant communities. PLoS ONE, 6(6), e19992. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019992.