Plant functional types and elevated CO<sub>2</sub>: A method of scanning for causes of community alteration
In this paper, a general method for an a posteriori plant functional type (PFT) analysis of global change effects on community composition is developed. We apply the method to a case study, specifically the Giessen-FACE experiment. This experiment involves a Central European meadow that has been exposed to moderate CO2-enrichment since May 1998.
The method for an a posteriori PFT-analysis: The method consists of four working steps and uses a combination of standard gradient analysis and Random Forests (RF). (1) The trait composition of the species is studied using Principal Components Analysis. Species trait information is gathered from databases. Natural PFT, i.e. groups of species with similar trait-sets, are identified specifically for the community under study. (2) A ranking of the species according to standardized/absolute CO2 abundance response is obtained from Redundancy Analysis. Initially, species with a response above or below the median are grouped into three response groups (RG) each having similar behaviour, i.e. positive/negative or no-response. (3) The outlyingness measure of RF is used to shift RG boundaries until satisfactory RG homogeneity is achieved. RF is utilized to find the best traits for the RG classification. The behaviour of species representative of the RG is derived from RF class centers. (4) From knowledge gained in steps 1-3, hypotheses about the causes underlying the community alteration are built. Strengths/weaknesses of the method are discussed.
Application of the method to the case study: The community consists of three natural PFT. Five species are summer-green forbs of varying competitiveness. Four species are evergreen ruderal forbs characterized as (semi-) basal rosette plants. The third natural PFT contains evergreen, more or less competitive species, mostly grasses, but also a few forbs.
Negative standardized CO2-response was practically restricted to two natural PFT, i.e. the summer-greens, irrespective of their competitiveness, and the evergreen ruderals. Standard positive response covered part of the evergreen competitive natural PFT. Among them was Glechoma hederacea, one of the forbs with the greatest similarity to grasses. Two hypotheses were formulated to explain the response pattern: (1) Summer-greens lost in competition with evergreens, because the annual time-integral they can use for enhanced growth was more limited with year-round CO2-enrichment. (2) As rosette plants, ruderal evergreens lagged behind evergreen competitors because periods with full sunlight, which enabled them to gain additional carbon, were shorter for them.
Absolute responses were additionally dependent on dominance patterns. The most striking difference to standard responses was the restriction of positive response to (sub-)dominant grasses.
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