While community-weighted means of plant traits have been linked to mean environmental conditions at large scales, the drivers of trait variation within communities are not well understood. Local environmental heterogeneity (such as microclimate variability), in addition to mean environmental conditions, may decrease the strength of environmental filtering and explain why communities support different amounts of trait variation. Here, we assess two hypotheses: first, that more heterogeneous local environments and second, that less extreme environments, should support a broader range of plant strategies and thus higher trait variation. We quantified drivers of trait variation across a range of environmental conditions and spatial scales ranging from sub-meter to tens of kilometers in montane and alpine plant communities. We found that, within communities, both environmental heterogeneity and environmental means are drivers of trait variation. However, the importance of each environmental factor varied depending on the trait. Our results indicate that larger-scale trait–climate linkages that hold across communities also apply at small spatial scales, suggesting that microclimate variation within communities is a key driver of community functional diversity. Microclimatic variation provides a potential mechanism for helping to maintain diversity in local communities and also suggests that small-scale environmental heterogeneity should be measured as a better predictor of functional diversity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics