Context-dependent plant traits drive fine-scale species persistence in old-growth forests
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Questions: we studied old growth beech forest vegetation in Permanent Monitoring Plots (PMPs) located in Italy, with the following questions: is species turnover the main component of the observed changes or the present species assemblages is an impoverished sub-sets of the former ones?; 2) how compositional changes are reflected by specific plant functional traits? Location: we selected 4 PMPs (50 x 50 m) of the CONECOFOR network, placed along a latitudinal and climatic gradient in Italy, from south to north: CALABRIA03, CAMPANIA04, ABRUZZO01 and VENETO20. Methods: presence/absence of herb layer species were recorded in 100 permanent micro-plots of 50 x 50 cm over 12 years (1999-2011). For all sampled species we chose a set of 8 easy-to-measure functional traits. We compared the persistence, nestedness and turnover components of compositional changes. The role of plant traits explaining species persistence were analyzed by classification and regression tree. Results: Analysis in species diversity reveal antithetical ecological phenomena due to the diversity and complexity of the 4 different forest stands. ABRUZZO01 and CALABRIA03 show a clear nestedness trends over time with persistent species in ABR01 having higher seed mass and persistent species in CALABRIA03 having scleromorphic leaves and mesoporphic leaves, with large below-ground budbank. On the other hand, VENETO20 and CAMPANIA04 exibit a significant turnover trends over the 12 years characterized by persistent species in VENETO20 having helomorphic leaves, while in CAMPANIA04 large below-ground budbank and smaller SLA were the most important traits for species survival. Conclusion: Fine-scale approach highlight different mechanisms for the maintenance of species diversity in different complex forest systems driven significantly by specific traits, influenced by context-dependent factors.