Disturbance and resource availability act differently on the same suite of plant traits: Revisiting assembly hypotheses

J.C. Douma*, B. Shipley, J.P.M. Witte, R. Aerts, P.M. van Bodegom

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the mechanisms of trait selection at the scale of plant communities is a crucial step toward predicting community assembly. Although it is commonly assumed that disturbance and resource availability constrain separate suites of traits, representing the regenerative and established phases, respectively, a quantification and test of this accepted hypothesis is still lacking due to limitations of traditional statistical techniques. In this paper we quantify, using structural equation modeling (SEM), the relative contributions of disturbance and resource availability to the selection of suites of traits at the community scale. Our model specifies and reflects previously obtained ecological insights, taking disturbance and nutrient availability as central drivers affecting leaf, allometric, seed, and phenology traits in 156 (semi-) natural plant communities throughout The Netherlands. The common hypothesis positing that disturbance and resource availability each affect a set of mutually independent traits was not consistent with the data. Instead, our final model shows that most traits are strongly affected by both drivers. In addition, trait-trait constraints are more important in community assembly than environmental drivers in half of the cases. Both aspects of trait selection are crucial for correctly predicting ecosystem processes and community assembly, and they provide new insights into hitherto underappreciated ecological interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)825-835
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Canopy height
  • Community assembly
  • Disturbance
  • Germination onset
  • Leaf economic traits
  • Nutrient availability
  • Relative growth rate
  • Seed mass
  • Structural equation modeling
  • The Netherlands

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