Differences in forest plant functional trait distributions across land-use and productivity gradients Academic Article uri icon


  • PREMISE OF STUDY: Plant functional traits are commonly used as proxies for plant responses to environmental challenges, yet few studies have explored how functional trait distributions differ across gradients of land-use change. By comparing trait distributions in intact forests with those across land-use change gradients, we can improve our understanding of the ways land-use change alters the diversity and functioning of plant communities. METHODS: We examined how the variation and distribution of trait values for seven plant functional traits differ between reference natural forest and three types of land-use conversion (pasture, old-field, or "legacy" sites-regrowth following logging), landscape productivity (NPP) and vegetation strata (tree or non-tree "understory"), in a meta-analysis of studies from 15 landscapes across five continents. KEY RESULTS: Although trait variation often differed between land-uses within a landscape, these patterns were rarely consistent across landscapes. The variance and distribution of traits were more likely to differ consistently between natural forest and land-use conversion categories for understory (non-tree) plants than for trees. Landscape productivity did not significantly alter the difference in trait variance between natural forest and land-use conversion categories for any trait except dispersal. CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that even for traits well linked to plant environmental response strategies, broad classes of land-use change and landscape productivity are not generally useful indicators of the mechanisms driving compositional changes in human-modified forest systems.


  • Mayfield, Margaret M
  • Dwyer, John M
  • Chalmandrier, Loïc
  • Wells, Jessie A
  • Bonser, Stephen P
  • Catterall, Carla P
  • DeClerck, Fabrice
  • Ding, Yi
  • Fraterrigo, Jennifer M
  • Metcalfe, Daniel J
  • Queiroz, Cibele
  • Vesk, Peter A
  • Morgan, John W

publication date

  • July 2013