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Plant response traits mediate the effects of subalpine grasslands on soil moisture.

New Phytologist 180(3):652 (2008) PMID 18657216

* In subalpine grasslands, changes in abiotic conditions with decreased management intensity alter the functional composition of plant communities, leading to modifications of ecosystem properties. Here, it is hypothesized that the nature of plant feedbacks on soil moisture is determined by the values of key traits at the community level. * As community functional parameters of grasslands change along a gradient of land uses, those traits that respond most to differences in abiotic conditions produced by land use changes were identified. A vegetation removal experiment was then conducted to determine how each plant community affected soil moisture. * Soil moisture was negatively correlated with community root length and positively correlated with canopy height, whereas average leaf area was associated with productivity. These traits were successfully used to predict the effects on soil moisture of each plant community in the removal experiment. This result was validated using data from an additional set of fields. * These findings demonstrate that the modification of soil moisture following land use change in subalpine grasslands can be mediated through those plant functional traits that respond to water availability.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2008.02577.x