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iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry

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Towards a functional phytosociology: the functional ecology of woody diagnostic species and their vegetation classes in Northern Italy

Magda Zanzottera (1-2), Michele Dalle Fratte (1)   , Marco Caccianiga (2), Simon Pierce (3), Bruno Enrico Leone Cerabolini (1)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 14, Issue 6, Pages 522-530 (2021)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor3730-014
Published: Nov 22, 2021 - Copyright © 2021 SISEF

Research Articles


Vegetation is often classified through phytosociology, which defines floristically and ecologically coherent units identified by diagnostic species. Since species- and community-environment relations are regulated by plant functional traits, it is likely that phytosociology has a strong functional underpinning, although the past and current phytosociology does not explicitly tackle this issue. Here we provide an analysis of functional traits of 221 woody species from Northern Italy, diagnostic of 21 European woody vegetation classes (including alien dominated ones). We assessed whether the functional space occupied by selected species corresponds to the physiognomy and ecology of the vegetation they represent, and whether this could help to evaluate major threats, such as invasion by alien species. For each species we collected from Authors’ datasets leaf trait data (leaf area, specific leaf area, leaf dry matter content, carbon to nitrogen ratio, leaf nitrogen content) and whole plant (plant height, seed mass) traits, and calculated Competitor, Stress-tolerant, Ruderal (CSR) scores. We identified the multidimensional functional trait space of diagnostic species and clustered classes according to their scores in the functional space, to check whether their physiognomy was coherently represented and mirrored in the CSR space. Lastly, we tested for differences between native and neophyte species and their overlap with classes. Diagnostic species mirrored the global spectrum of plant form and function, and classes showed a functional pattern coherent with their physiognomy and ecology. Evergreen dominated classes showed a similar convergence toward conservative characteristics and the stress-tolerant strategy, as opposed to deciduous forest classes that showed a tendency toward the competitive strategy. None of the classes showed a marked ruderal strategy, thus abiotic stress and biotic competition are the main ecological drivers affecting woody vegetation. Neophyte woody species exhibited relatively more competitive strategies compared to natives, and their invasion could be facilitated in resource-limited or mildly disturbed environments, should climate warming or increased nutrient availability occur. We demonstrated that plant traits and CSR strategies of woody diagnostic species reliably indicate the structure and functions of the phytosociological classes they represent, opening the way to the development of a “functional phytosociology”.

  Keywords


CSR Adaptive Strategies, Forests, Shrublands, Global Spectrum, Neophytes, Plant Functional Traits, Structure and Functions, Typical Species

Authors’ address

(1)
Magda Zanzottera
Michele Dalle Fratte 0000-0002-7907-1586
Bruno Enrico Leone Cerabolini 0000-0002-3793-0733
Department of Biotechnology and Life Science - DBSV, University of Insubria, v. Dunant 3, 21100 Varese (Italy)
(2)
Magda Zanzottera
Marco Caccianiga 0000-0001-9715-1830
Department of Biosciences - DBS, University of Milano, v. Celoria 26, 20133 Milan (Italy)
(3)
Simon Pierce 0000-0003-1182-987X
Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - DiSAA, University of Milan, v. Celoria 2, 20133 Milan (Italy)

Corresponding author

 
Michele Dalle Fratte
michele.dallefratte@gmail.com

Citation

Zanzottera M, Dalle Fratte M, Caccianiga M, Pierce S, Cerabolini BEL (2021). Towards a functional phytosociology: the functional ecology of woody diagnostic species and their vegetation classes in Northern Italy. iForest 14: 522-530. - doi: 10.3832/ifor3730-014

Academic Editor

Paola Mairota

Paper history

Received: Dec 23, 2020
Accepted: Sep 23, 2021

First online: Nov 22, 2021
Publication Date: Dec 31, 2021
Publication Time: 2.00 months

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