Do plant traits influence primary succession patterns for bryophytes and vascular plants? Evidence from a 33‐year chronosequence on bare chalk

Ridding, Lucy E. ORCID:; Hawes, Peter; Walls, Robin; Pilkington, Sharon L.; Pywell, Richard F. ORCID:; Pescott, Oliver L. ORCID: 2024 Do plant traits influence primary succession patterns for bryophytes and vascular plants? Evidence from a 33‐year chronosequence on bare chalk. Journal of Ecology, 112 (1). 68-85.

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1. During primary succession, the abundance of different species and their associated plant traits change over time. Understanding how plant traits linked to colonising and competitive abilities change through succession is important for determining whether community assembly can be predicted. Examining this across more than one taxon group can reveal if these patterns are generalisable. 2. Here, we investigated primary succession on bare chalk for a chronosequence spanning 33 years for two different taxa, vascular plants and bryophytes. We examined how abundance changed through succession, and how this related to species' colonising and competitive abilities, using relevant plant traits for each taxa. A zero-inflated beta regression model was used to investigate the effects of traits on both presence/absence and abundance-when-present of vascular plants and bryophytes. 3. Vascular plants with a larger specific leaf area were more likely to occur later in succession. Vascular plants, which were hemicryptophytes, wind dispersing and had a lower canopy height, were more likely to increase in abundance-when-present during succession. 4. Bryophytes with a larger spore diameter were more likely to occur later in succession. Shorter bryophytes with a greater frequency of sporophyte production had a higher abundance early in succession, representing their high colonising abilities. Whereas later in succession larger bryophytes, with a mat or weft life form and low sporophyte frequency were more abundant, indicating a shift towards greater competitive abilities. 5. Synthesis. This study has revealed different patterns for vascular plants and bryophytes regarding colonisation and changes in abundance through succession, and the associated traits linked to colonising and competitive abilities. Although some traits were found to influence abundance through succession for vascular plants, these were often contrary to the expected pattern representing the change from colonising to competitive abilities, whereas for bryophytes, there was more evidence for this shift with successional age. This suggests that general theories on succession-linked plant traits should not be relied upon in isolation for the prediction of community assembly. Context, particularly successional age in relation to the available species pool is also key.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0022-0477
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: beta regression, colonisers, community assembly, competition, perennial stayers, species abundance, species composition
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Biology and Microbiology
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Date made live: 07 Dec 2023 10:55 +0 (UTC)

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