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Plant Traits Reflect Species Adaptation Strategies to Forest

Fragmentation in the Atlantic Forest, Brazil

By Claudia Guimarães‐Steinicke (22.09.2014)

Understanding the mechanisms driving the dynamics of plant communities is still a challenge for ecologists, in particular in tropical forests, where species numbers are substantially higher than in temperate regions and population sizes are lower, respectively. Mainly two theories have been discussed intensively in this context. The neutral theory of biodiversity assumes that there hardly occurs any limiting niche similarity for species in functional groups and many species could be not cluster at random in function groups, at least in plants. Niche theory on the other hand assumes that species differ in traits or responses to their environment. 

Studies concerning neutral theory still focus on primary forests and large-plots to understand the relationship between traits and environmental conditions. However, very disturbed environments as represented by fragmented forest is a good opportunity to test species-traits habitat relationships, and probably identify niche differentiation. Habitat loss and fragmentation causes alterations in habitats which may affect seed development, seedling survival and dispersal capability and consequently affect plant species survival. All these mechanisms reflect the ability of plant species to adapt to a disturbed environment. We therefore studied 17 fragments and 3 continuous forest areas of the Brazilian Atlantic forest whether plant traits can indicate species adaptation strategies in a fragmented forest. We installed 15 fruit traps along 3 transects per study site and investigated traits such as shade tolerance, dispersal capability, morphological aspects, and biomass of 80 tree species. Our data revealed that landscape connectivity and forest structure act as environmental filters in tropical plant communities and consequently can influence adaptation strategies that are reflected in plant traits. 

Our results showed that in small and also in isolated medium sites it is more likely to find anemochorous species with longer seeds rather than species with longer and slight fruits. Zoochorous species presented greater distribution along larger areas where presented a good forest structure as higher basal area and lower density of trees. Shade tolerant species did not benefit from increasing connectivity. Lastly, with increasing habitat area plant species that invest more in heavy seeds and wide fruits became dominant. The contributing species are mostly shade tolerant. Our results indicate that in fragmented tropical forests niche theory explains species-traits-habitat relationships as well as highlight the importance of functional groups of plant species supporting conservation strategies.

Scientific Career
  • 2000-2003
  • Licentiate and Bachelor in Biology, Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil
  • 10/2010 - 04/2013
  • Elite Graduate Program M.Sc. in Global Change Ecology

  • * Guimaraes‐Steinicke, C.R; Reu, B; Beierkuhnlein, C. Plant traits reflect species adaptation strategies to forest fragmentation in the Atlantic forest, Brazil. In preparation
  • * Guimarães‐Steinicke, C.R.; Banks‐Leite, C.; Hasui, E.; Metzger, J.P.; Knogge, C. Direct and indirect causal relations between frugivorous birds and plant communities in fragments of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. In preparation.
  • * Guimarães, C.R. et al.: Direct and indirect causal relations between frugivorous birds and plant communities in fragments of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. In: The 8th IALE World Congress, 2011, Beijing, China
  • * Guimarães, C.R. et al.: The influence of vegetation cover and the connectivity on the productivity of fruits in fragments of the Brazilian Atlantic forest. In: The Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation Congress, 2008,
  • * Guimarães, C.R.et al.: The influences of forest cover on the fruit productivity and the consequences for frugivorous birds in the Southeast of the Atlantic Forest, Brazil. In: Ecology Congress of Brazil, 2007, Caxambu, 2007.
  • * Guimarães, C.R. et al.: The influence of landscape configuration on the fruit productivity [...]. In: First Meeting IALE‐BR, 2007, Rio de Janeiro: GEOHECO‐UFRJ, 2007. v. 1. p. 12‐14.
  • * Guimarães, C.R. Impact of forest fragmentation on phenological events in tree communities of the Mata Atlântica in the State of São Paulo, Southeastern Brazil. In: Society for tropical Ecology 19th Annual Meeting, 2006, Kaiserslautern.