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Only a few studies have examined responses of grassland functional diversity to management and major environmental gradients, in order to address the question of whether grassland use can promote functional divergence. For five grassland sites in Israel, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Mediterranean France, and the French Alps, where traditional grassland management is being abandoned, we quantified community-weighted means (CWM) and functional divergence (FDvg) for the three Leaf-Height-Seed (LHS) traits, individually and in combination. Responses of CWM and FDvg to land use were analyzed by mixed linear models with aridity, phosphorus, fertility, and the fractions of grasses and annuals as covariates.

Responses of community-weighted traits to land use were consistent with current knowledge. More intense management favored plants with more rapid resource acquisition (high Specific Leaf Area, or SLA), whereas abandonment or less intense grassland management increased the dominance by tall plants with more conservative strategies (low SLA). Seed weight did not respond to land use. For the three traits and their combination, functional divergence decreased in response to land use change overall. Detailed responses, however, varied depending on sites and especially their climate. At the two French sites, traditional site management promoted functional divergence within communities by suppressing dominance by large perennial tussocks, whereas at the two Mediterranean sites it is likely that the drier climate promoted a functionally diverse pool of species tolerant to grazing.

This study demonstrates how simultaneous analyses of variations in community-mean traits and functional divergence for a focused set of traits offer promising avenues to understand mechanisms of community response to environmental change.

In: Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution