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Role of plant functional traits in determining vegetation composition of abandoned grazing land in north-eastern Victoria, Australia

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Question: In the Northern Hemisphere, species with dispersal limitations are typically absent from secondary forests. In Australia, little is known about dispersal mechanisms and other traits that drive species composition within post-agricultural, secondary forest. We asked whether mode of seed dispersal, nutrient uptake strategy, fire response, and life form in extant vegetation differ according to land-use history. We also asked whether functional traits of Australian species that confer tolerance to grazing and re-colonisation potential differ from those in the Northern Hemisphere.

Location: Delatite Peninsula, NE Victoria, Australia.

Methods: The vegetation of primary and secondary forests was surveyed using a paired-plot design. Eight traits were measured for all species recorded. ANOSIM tests and Non-metric Multi-dimensional Scaling were used to test differences in the abundance of plant attributes between land-use types.

Results: Land-use history had a significant effect on vegetation composition. Specific leaf area (SLA) proved to be the best predictor of response to land-use change. Primary forest species were typically myrmecochorous phanerophytes with low SLA. In the secondary forest, species were typically therophytes with epizoochorous dispersal and high SLA.

Conclusions: The attributes of species in secondary forests provide tolerance to grazing suggesting that disturbance caused by past grazing activity determined the composition of these forests. Myrmecochores were rare in secondary forests, suggesting that species had failed to re-colonise due to dispersal limitations. Functional traits that resulted in species loss through disturbance and prevented re-colonisation were different to those in the Northern Hemisphere and were attributable to the sclerophyllous nature of the primary forest.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-08-01

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