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Directional selection shifts trait distributions of planted species in dryland restoration


Balazs, Kathleen; Munson, Seth; Havrilla, Caroline A.; Butterfield, Brad (2021), Directional selection shifts trait distributions of planted species in dryland restoration, Dryad, Dataset,


1. The match between species trait values and local abiotic filters can restrict community membership. An often-implicit assumption of this relationship is that abiotic filters select for a single locally optimal strategy, though difficulty in isolating effects of the abiotic environment from those of dispersal limitation and biotic interactions has resulted in few empirical tests of this assumption. Similar constraints have made it difficult to assess whether the type and intensity of abiotic filters shift along gradients of environmental harshness, as predicted by the stress dominance hypothesis.

2. We planted 9,216 plants of perennial grass and forb species that had a range of functional trait values and were assigned to a warm, intermediate, or cool temperature tolerance pools across eight sites on the Colorado Plateau. We compared the distributions of traits of surviving individuals to null distributions to evaluate whether there were shifts in trait means and variation. Borrowing from phenotypic selection concepts in evolutionary biology, we assessed support for stabilizing, directional, and disruptive abiotic filtering of trait distributions and whether these types of filtering varied with initial species pool.

3. Functional composition was significantly different from null distributions for nearly all traits at all sites, with trait variation more restricted in harsher abiotic conditions, supporting the stress-dominance hypothesis. Contrary to expectations, we primarily found evidence for directional selection, which increased in frequency in warm species pools while disruptive selection was found more often in cool and intermediate species pools.

4. Synthesis: This study provides a controlled experimental approach to test the effect of the abiotic environment on plant trait filtering. We found that opportunistic strategies allowing for rapid water acquisition during favorable periods improved survival at warmer sites. Species with these strategies may be expected to benefit from increasing aridity and may be selected for active management efforts. More generally, the prevalence of directional selection may have important implications for dynamic vegetation models that rely on trait distributions for translating environmental variation into ecosystem processes.


U.S. Bureau of Land Management