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Consistent physiological, ecological and evolutionary effects of fire regime on conservative leaf economics strategies in plant communities

Published version
Peer-reviewed

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Authors

Pellegrini, Adam F. A.  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0418-4129
Anderegg, Leander 
Pinto‐Ledezma, Jesús N.  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6668-9670
Cavender‐Bares, Jeannine 
Hobbie, Sarah E. 

Abstract

The functional response of plant communities to disturbance is hypothesised to be controlled by changes in environmental conditions and evolutionary history of species within the community. However, separating these influences using direct manipulations of repeated disturbances within ecosystems is rare. We evaluated how 41 years of manipulated fire affected plant leaf economics by sampling 89 plant species across a savanna‐forest ecotone. Greater fire frequencies created a high‐light and low‐nitrogen environment, with more diverse communities that contained denser leaves and lower foliar nitrogen content. Strong trait–fire coupling resulted from the combination of significant intraspecific trait–fire correlations being in the same direction as interspecific trait differences arising through the turnover in functional composition along the fire‐frequency gradient. Turnover among specific clades helped explain trait–fire trends, but traits were relatively labile. Overall, repeated burning led to reinforcing selective pressures that produced diverse plant communities dominated by conservative resource‐use strategies and slow soil nitrogen cycling.

Description

Keywords

LETTER, LETTERS, eco‐evolution, functional traits, leaf physiology, nutrient cycling, phylogenetic constraints, savanna, stoichiometry

Journal Title

Ecology Letters

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

1461-023X
1461-0248

Volume Title

Publisher

Sponsorship
Newton‐Wellcome Trust (Starter Grant)
U.S. Department of Agriculture (2018‐67012‐28077)
United States of America National Science Foundation (DEB‐0620652, DEB‐1234162, DEB‐1831944, NSF‐DBI‐2021898)