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Remotely sensed between‐individual functional trait variation in a temperate forest


Guillén‐Escribà, Carla; Schneider, Fabian Daniel; Schmid, Bernhard; Tedder, Andrew; Morsdorf, Felix; Furrer, Reinhard; Hueni, Andreas; Niklaus, Pascal A; Schaepman, Michael E (2021). Remotely sensed between‐individual functional trait variation in a temperate forest. Ecology and Evolution:Epub ahead of print.

Abstract

1. Trait-based ecology holds the promise to explain how plant communities work, for example, how functional diversity may support community productivity. However, so far it has been difficult to combine field-based approaches assessing traits at the level of plant individuals with limited spatial coverage and approaches using remote sensing (RS) with complete spatial coverage but assessing traits at the level of vegetation pixels rather than individuals. By delineating all individual-tree crowns within a temperate forest site and then assigning RS-derived trait measures to these trees, we combine the two approaches, allowing us to use general linear models to estimate the influence of taxonomic or environmental variation on between- and within-species variation across contiguous space.
2. We used airborne imaging spectroscopy and laser scanning to collect individual-tree RS data from a mixed conifer-angiosperm forest on a mountain slope extending over 5.5 ha and covering large environmental gradients in elevation as well as light and soil conditions. We derived three biochemical (leaf chlorophyll, carotenoids, and water content) and three architectural traits (plant area index, foliage-height diversity, and canopy height), which had previously been used to characterize plant function, from the RS data. We then quantified the contributions of taxonomic and environmental variation and their interaction to trait variation and partitioned the remaining within-species trait variation into smaller-scale spatial and residual variation. We also investigated the correlation between functional trait and phylogenetic distances at the between-species level. The forest consisted of 13 tree species of which eight occurred in sufficient abundance for quantitative analysis.
3. On average, taxonomic variation between species accounted for more than 15% of trait variation in biochemical traits but only around 5% (still highly significant) in architectural traits. Biochemical trait distances among species also showed a stronger correlation with phylogenetic distances than did architectural trait distances. Light and soil conditions together with elevation explained slightly more variation than taxonomy across all traits, but in particular increased plant area index (light) and reduced canopy height (elevation). Except for foliage-height diversity, all traits were affected by significant interactions between taxonomic and environmental variation, the different responses of the eight species to the within-site environmental gradients potentially contributing to the coexistence of the eight abundant species.
4. We conclude that with high-resolution RS data it is possible to delineate individual-tree crowns within a forest and thus assess functional traits derived from RS data at individual level. With this precondition fulfilled, it is then possible to apply tools commonly used in field-based trait ecology to partition trait variation among individuals into taxonomic and potentially even genetic variation, environmental variation, and interactions between the two. The method proposed here presents a promising way of assessing individual-based trait information with complete spatial coverage and thus allowing analysis of functional diversity at different scales. This information can help to better understand processes shaping community structure, productivity, and stability of forests.

Abstract

1. Trait-based ecology holds the promise to explain how plant communities work, for example, how functional diversity may support community productivity. However, so far it has been difficult to combine field-based approaches assessing traits at the level of plant individuals with limited spatial coverage and approaches using remote sensing (RS) with complete spatial coverage but assessing traits at the level of vegetation pixels rather than individuals. By delineating all individual-tree crowns within a temperate forest site and then assigning RS-derived trait measures to these trees, we combine the two approaches, allowing us to use general linear models to estimate the influence of taxonomic or environmental variation on between- and within-species variation across contiguous space.
2. We used airborne imaging spectroscopy and laser scanning to collect individual-tree RS data from a mixed conifer-angiosperm forest on a mountain slope extending over 5.5 ha and covering large environmental gradients in elevation as well as light and soil conditions. We derived three biochemical (leaf chlorophyll, carotenoids, and water content) and three architectural traits (plant area index, foliage-height diversity, and canopy height), which had previously been used to characterize plant function, from the RS data. We then quantified the contributions of taxonomic and environmental variation and their interaction to trait variation and partitioned the remaining within-species trait variation into smaller-scale spatial and residual variation. We also investigated the correlation between functional trait and phylogenetic distances at the between-species level. The forest consisted of 13 tree species of which eight occurred in sufficient abundance for quantitative analysis.
3. On average, taxonomic variation between species accounted for more than 15% of trait variation in biochemical traits but only around 5% (still highly significant) in architectural traits. Biochemical trait distances among species also showed a stronger correlation with phylogenetic distances than did architectural trait distances. Light and soil conditions together with elevation explained slightly more variation than taxonomy across all traits, but in particular increased plant area index (light) and reduced canopy height (elevation). Except for foliage-height diversity, all traits were affected by significant interactions between taxonomic and environmental variation, the different responses of the eight species to the within-site environmental gradients potentially contributing to the coexistence of the eight abundant species.
4. We conclude that with high-resolution RS data it is possible to delineate individual-tree crowns within a forest and thus assess functional traits derived from RS data at individual level. With this precondition fulfilled, it is then possible to apply tools commonly used in field-based trait ecology to partition trait variation among individuals into taxonomic and potentially even genetic variation, environmental variation, and interactions between the two. The method proposed here presents a promising way of assessing individual-based trait information with complete spatial coverage and thus allowing analysis of functional diversity at different scales. This information can help to better understand processes shaping community structure, productivity, and stability of forests.

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Mathematics
07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
07 Faculty of Science > Institute for Computational Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:340 Law
610 Medicine & health
510 Mathematics
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Physical Sciences > Ecology
Physical Sciences > Nature and Landscape Conservation
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ecology, Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics, Nature and Landscape Conservation
Language:English
Date:22 July 2021
Deposited On:06 Aug 2021 10:07
Last Modified:07 Aug 2021 20:00
Publisher:Wiley Open Access
ISSN:2045-7758
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.7758

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