Ecology and Evolution | 2021
Joint control of plant ecological strategy by climate, regeneration mode, and ontogeny in Northeastern Chinese forests
Abstract Research on how plant ecological strategies (competitive, stress‐tolerant, or ruderal) vary within species may improve our understanding of plant and community responses to climate warming and also successional changes. With increasing temperature, the importance of ruderal (R) and stress tolerance (S) components is hypothesized to decrease, while the strength of the competitive (C) component should increase. Offshoots and younger plants are predicted to have greater R and smaller S components. Leaf area, leaf dry matter content, and specific leaf area were measured for 1,344 forest plants belonging to 134 species in Liangshui and Fenglin Nature Reserves in Northeastern China, and C, R, and S scores calculated for each. Linear mixed effect models were used to assess how these indicators differed among study sites (n = 2), regeneration types, ontogenetic stages, and plant life forms. The two study sites have an average annual temperature difference of 0.675°C, simulating a temperature increase of 0.630°C due to climate warming. Higher temperatures reduce low‐temperature stress and frost damage, which may explain the observed decrease in R and S scores; at the same time, plant competitive ability increased, as manifested by higher C scores. This effect was most pronounced for herbaceous plants, but nearly negligible as compared to the effect of regeneration type for trees and of ontogeny for woody species. Resprouting trees and younger woody plants had higher R scores and lower S scores, a sign of adaptation to high disturbance. In this study, a small increase in mean annual temperature led to shifts in CSR strategy components for herbaceous species, without altering the vegetation type or community composition. Offshoots and younger plants had higher R and lower S scores, shedding light on similar changes in the ecological strategies of tree communities during secondary succession, such as the transition of Quercus mongolica coppices to forest and age‐related changes in Populus davidiana–Betula platyphylla forests.