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Identifying plant traits associated with topographic contrasts in a rugged and diverse region (Klamath‐Siskiyou Mts, OR, USA)

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Rugged topography affects species distributions and community composition by creating contrasting mesic (cool, moist) and xeric (warm, dry) microclimates on adjacent slopes. This microclimatic heterogeneity is thought to have contributed to species survival during past climate fluctuations. Within a rugged and botanically rich region, we asked what functional, distributional, and/or biogeographic traits distinguished the species significantly associated with xeric or mesic microclimates. For each of 236 species in 4773 plots in the Klamath‐Siskiyou Mountains, we tested for significant associations with mesic or xeric topographic microclimates inferred from high‐resolution topographic variables. For the subset of species showing significant associations, we then compared their functional traits, biogeographic origins, and macroclimatic attributes to those of other species. We also tested the dependence of topographic associations on elevation, canopy cover, and soil type. Many species in the region (40%) showed significant tendencies to be found only in either mesic or xeric topography. ‘Mesic’ species tended to be of northern biogeographic origin and to have geographic ranges with higher mean precipitation; ‘xeric’ species had the opposite attributes. Species occurred more often in mesic microclimates when they occurred on low‐nutrient serpentine soils, and were more often found in xeric microclimates at high elevations. Functional traits such as specific leaf area were not significant predictors of species association with topographic microclimate. Biogeographic origins and the mean precipitation (rather than temperature) of species geographic ranges are the best indicators of species that are found in cool/moist northerly or hot/dry southerly microclimates.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2015

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