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How do leaf trait values change spatially and temporally with light availability in a grassland diversity experiment?



Abstract

Complementarity in light use might increase light exploitation and could be an important mechanism explaining the coexistence of multiple species in plant communities of increasing diversity. We measured vertical light profiles and leaf traits related to light acquisition and light use in 40 mixtures of varying species richness (SR, 2, 4, 8 and 16) and functional group richness (FR, 1‐4) in a large grassland biodiversity experiment at five different times during the growing season. Light attenuation within the canopy differed significantly among mixtures of varying SR at peak biomass, with 40% in 2‐species mixtures and up to 80% in 16‐species mixtures. In contrast, increasing SR did not affect light attenuation at the beginning of the growing season or during regrowth after mowing, when large fractions of incoming radiation reached the ground level. These patterns suggested the presence of highly variable light niches over space and time. Trait expression differed among functional groups (except specific leaf area (SLA)) and varied within the growing season. However, we found no direct effect of increased SR or FR on the expression of leaf traits, except for positive species richness‐effects on SLA at peak biomass time. SLA and stomatal conductance increased and leaf dry matter content decreased at lower light at leaf height, while leaf greenness was independent of relative light availability. Dissimilarity of leaf traits (except SLA) at the community level increased with increasing SR. Thus, our results suggest that after accounting for light availability, which was driven by SR and time of year, variations in leaf trait expression within the grassland canopies did not depend on SR, but rather on functional group identity and time of year. Consequently, increased complementarity in light use at higher plant diversity is due to presence of more species with different leaf trait expression and trait variation in response to the actual light environment.

Bachmann D, Roscher C, Buchmann N. 2018 How do leaf trait values change spatially and temporally with light availability in a grassland diversity experiment? Oikos , 1-14. (doi:10.1111/oik.04533)

 

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