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Using life-history traits to achieve a functional classification of habitats

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Question: To establish a habitat classification based on functional group co-occurrence that may help the drawing up of conservation plans.

Location: Riverine forest fragments in the Grand-duché de Luxembourg, Europe.

Methods: Forest fragments were surveyed for their abundance of vascular plants. These were clustered into emergent groups according to 14 life-traits related to plant dispersal, establishment and persistence. Forest fragments were classified according to similar distribution of the identified emergent groups. Environmental factors were related to the emergent group richness in each forest type using generalized linear models.

Results: Contrary to former species centred classifications, only two groups of forests, each with clearly different emergent group composition and conservation requirements, were detected: (1) swamp forests characterized by anemogamous perennials, annuals and hydrochorous perennials and (2) moist forests characterized by barochorous perennials, small geophytes and zoochorous phanerophytes. From a conservation point of view, priority should be given to large swamp forest with intact flooding regimes. This is in accordance with the high wind and water dispersal capacities of their typical emergent groups. For the moist forests, conservation priorities should be high forest connectivity and historical continuity since dispersal and establishment of their characteristic emergent groups are highly limited.

Conclusions: The described methodology, situated at an intermediate integration level between the individual species and whole community descriptors, takes advantage of both conservation plans built for single species and the synthetic power of broad ecological measures.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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