Trait space of rare plants in a fire-dependent ecosystem.
The causes of species rarity are of critical concern because of the high extinction risk associated with rarity. Studies examining individual rare species have limited generality, whereas trait-based approaches offer a means to identify functional causes of rarity that can be applied to communities with disparate species pools. Differences in functional traits between rare and common species may be indicative of the functional causes of species rarity and may therefore be useful in crafting species conservation strategies. However, there is a conspicuous lack of studies comparing the functional traits of rare species and co-occurring common species. We measured 18 important functional traits for 19 rare and 134 common understory plant species from North Carolina's Sandhills region and compared their trait distributions to determine whether there are significant functional differences that may explain species rarity. Flowering, fire, and tissue-chemistry traits differed significantly between rare and common, co-occurring species. Differences in specific traits suggest that fire suppression has driven rarity in this system and that changes to the timing and severity of prescribed fire may improve conservation success. Our method provides a useful tool to prioritize conservation efforts in other systems based on the likelihood that rare species are functionally capable of persisting.
Ames, GM; Wall, WA; Hohmann, MG; Wright, JP
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