Phenotypic plasticity is a negative, though weak, predictor of the commonness of 105 grassland species

Dostál, Petr; Fischer, Markus; Prati, Daniel (2016). Phenotypic plasticity is a negative, though weak, predictor of the commonness of 105 grassland species. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 25(4), pp. 464-474. Wiley-Blackwell 10.1111/geb.12429

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The usual hypothesis about the relationship between niche breadth and range size posits that species with the capacity to use a wider range of resources or to tolerate a greater range of environmental conditions should be more widespread. In plants, broader niches are often hypothesized to be due to pronounced phenotypic plasticity, and more plastic species are therefore predicted to be more common. We examined the relationship between the magnitude of phenotypic plasticity in five functional traits, mainly related to leaves, and several measures of abundance in 105 Central European grassland species. We further tested whether mean values of traits, rather than their plasticity, better explain the commonness of species, possibly because they are pre-adapted to exploiting the most common resources.

Central Europe.

In a multispecies experiment with 105 species we measured leaf thickness, leaf greenness, specific leaf area, leaf dry matter content and plant height, and the plasticity of these traits in response to fertilization, waterlogging and shading. For the same species we also obtained five measures of commonness, ranging from plot-level abundance to range size in Europe. We then examined whether these measures of commonness were associated with the magnitude of phenotypic plasticity, expressed as composite plasticity of all traits across the experimental treatments. We further estimated the relative importance of trait plasticity and trait means for abundance and geographical range size.

More abundant species were less plastic. This negative relationship was fairly consistent across several spatial scales of commonness, but it was weak. Indeed, compared with trait means, plasticity was relatively unimportant for explaining differences in species commonness.

Main conclusions
Our results do not indicate that larger phenotypic plasticity of leaf morphological traits enhances species abundance. Furthermore, possession of a particular trait value, rather than of trait plasticity, is a more important determinant of species commonness.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)

UniBE Contributor:

Dostál, Petr, Fischer, Markus, Prati, Daniel


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)








Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

18 May 2016 17:09

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:55

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Environmental tolerance ;geographical range size; multispecies experiments; niche breadth; phenotypic plasticity; phylogenetic meta-analysis; resource use strategy; SLA; temperate grasslands




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