Journal Article

Differential effects of plant diversity on functional trait variation of grass species

Marlén Gubsch, Nina Buchmann, Bernhard Schmid, Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Annett Lipowsky and Christiane Roscher

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 107, issue 1, pages 157-169
Published in print January 2011 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online November 2010 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Differential effects of plant diversity on functional trait variation of grass species

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


Show Summary Details


Background and Aims

Functional trait differences and trait adjustment in response to influences of the biotic environment could reflect niche partitioning among species. In this study, we tested how variation in above-ground plant traits, chosen as indicators for light and nitrogen acquisition and use, differs among taxonomically closely related species (Poaceae) to assess their potential for niche segregation at increasing plant diversity.


Traits of 12 grass species were measured in experimental grasslands (Jena Experiment) of varying species richness (from 1 to 60) and presence of particular functional groups (grasses, legumes, tall herbs and small herbs).

Key Results

Grass species increased shoot and leaf length, investment into supporting tissue (stem mass fraction) and specific leaf area as well as reduced foliar δ13C values with increasing species richness, indicating higher efforts for light acquisition. These species-richness effects could in part be explained by a higher probability of legume presence in more diverse communities. Leaf nitrogen concentrations increased and biomas s : N ratios in shoots decreased when grasses grew with legumes, indicating an improved nitrogen nutrition. Foliar δ15N values of grasses decreased when growing with legumes suggesting the use of depleted legume-derived N, while decreasing δ15N values with increasing species richness indicated a shift in the uptake of different N sources. However, efforts to optimize light and nitrogen acquisition by plastic adjustment of traits in response to species richness and legume presence, varied significantly among grass species. It was possible to show further that trait adjustment of grass species increased niche segregation in more diverse plant communities but that complementarity through niche separation may differ between light and nutrient acquisition.


The results suggest that even among closely related species such as grasses different strategies are used to cope with neighbours. This lack in redundancy in turn may facilitate complementary resource use and coexistence.

Keywords: Biodiversity; grasses; functional traits; Jena Experiment; legumes; redundancy; species richness; trait variation

Journal Article.  7831 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.