Spatial distribution of functional traits indicates small scale habitat filtering during early plant succession

Werner Ulrich, Markus Klemens Zaplata, Susanne Winter, Anton Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Two major theories on community assembly (habitat filtering and limiting similarity) predict contrasting patterns in the spatial distribution of plant species. The respective distribution of species functional traits has received much less attention but is essential to understand facilitative and competitive species interactions. Here we apply a recently developed technique for phylogenetic analysis to study the spatial distribution of major functional traits during seven years of primary plant succession at a re-established catchment in a German lignite mine. Habitat filtering induced a significant temporal trend towards underdispersed functional trait diversity leading to patches of functionally similar vegetation. This functional convergence was not mirrored by a respective trend towards species aggregation. Differences in soil pH and nitrogen content were positively correlated with respective differences in trait expression. Separate analyses of trait distribution for aggregated and segregated species revealed trait convergence in co-occurring and random patterns in spatially segregated species pairs except for leaf size showing a strong temporal tendency for trait convergence in spatially segregated species. Contrasting patterns of species co-occurrence did not translate into respective contrasts in trait distribution. We interpret the prevalence of random trait associations in spatially segregated species as an indication that species occurrence patterns alone are weak predictors of assembly mechanisms. Mechanistic inference of species co-occurrence needs to be accompanied by a detailed assessment of the patterns of functional trait assembly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-66
Number of pages9
JournalPerspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Functional traits
  • Modularity
  • Primary succession
  • Spatial analysis
  • Species co-occurrence
  • Species turnover


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