Trait integration and functional differentiation among co-existing plant species

American Journal of Botany
By: , and 




Determining which traits characterize strategies of coexisting species is important to developing trait‐based models of plant communities. First, global dimensions may not exist locally. Second, the degree to which traits and trait spectra constitute independent dimensions of functional variation at various scales continues to be refined. Finally, traits may be associated with existing categorical groupings.


We assessed trait integration and differentiation across 57 forest understory plant species in Douglas‐fir forests of western Oregon, United States. We combined measurements for a range of traits with literature‐based estimates of seed mass and species groupings. We used network analysis and nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordination (NMS) to determine the degree of integration.


We observed a strong leaf economics spectrum (LES) integrated with stem but not root traits. However, stem traits and intrinsic water‐use efficiency integrated LES and root traits. Network analyses indicated a modest grouping of a priori trait dimensions. NMS indicated that multivariate differences among species were related primarily to (1) rooting depth and plant height vs. specific root length, (2) the LES, and (3) leaf size vs. seed mass. These differences were related to species groupings associated with growth and life form, leaf lifespan and seed dispersal mechanisms.


The strategies of coexisting understory plant species could not be reduced to a single dimension. Yet, species can be characterized efficiently and effectively for trait‐based studies of plant communities by measuring four common traits: plant height, specific leaf area, leaf size, and seed mass.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Trait integration and functional differentiation among co-existing plant species
Series title American Journal of Botany
DOI 10.1002/ajb2.1451
Volume 107
Issue 4
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 628
Last page 638
Country United States
State Oregon
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