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Interspecific competition alters leaf stoichiometry in 20 grassland species
- Guiz, Jordan, Ebeling, Anne, Eisenhauer, Nico, Hacker, Nina, Hertzog, Lionel, Oelmann, Yvonne, Roscher, Christiane, Wagg, Cameron, Hillebrand, Helmut
- Oikos 2018 v.127 no.7 pp. 903-914
- carbon, environmental factors, grasses, grasslands, interspecific competition, interspecific variation, leaves, nitrogen, nitrogen content, phosphorus, species diversity, stoichiometry, temporal variation, Germany
- The extensive use of traits in ecological studies over the last few decades to predict community functions has revealed that plant traits are plastic and respond to various environmental factors. These plant traits are assumed to predict how plants compete and capture resources. Variation in stoichiometric ratios both within and across species reflects resource capture dynamics under competition. However, the impact of local plant diversity on species‐specific stoichiometry remains poorly studied. Here, we analyze how spatial and temporal diversity in resource‐acquisition traits affects leaf elemental stoichiometry of plants (i.e. the result of resource capture) and how flexible this stoichiometry is depending on the functional composition of the surrounding community. Therefore, we assessed inter‐ and intraspecific variations of leaf carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) (and their ratios) of 20 grassland species in a large trait‐based plant diversity experiment located in Jena (Germany) by measuring leaf elemental concentrations at the species‐level along a gradient in plant trait dissimilarity. Our results show that plants showed large intra‐ and interspecific variation in leaf stoichiometry, which was only partly explained by the functional group identity (grass or herb) of the species. Elemental concentrations (N, P, but not C) decreased with plant species richness, and species tended to become more deviant from their monoculture stoichiometry with increasing trait dissimilarity in the community. These responses differed among species, some consistently increased or decreased in P and N concentrations; for other species, the negative or positive change in P and N concentrations increased with increasing trait difference between the target species and the remaining community. The strength of this relationship was significantly associated to the relative position of the species along trait gradients related to resource acquisition. Trait‐difference and trait‐diversity thus were important predictors of how species’ resource capture changed in competitive neighbourhoods.