In the new Oikos Early View paper, “Inferring temporal shifts in landuse intensity from functional response traits and functional diversity patterns: a study of Scotland’s mach air grassland”, Rob J.Lewis and colleagues explore how land use changes affect community assembly processes. Here’s Rob’s summary of paper:
There is a growing consensus among ecologists that a trait based view on species community composition may far outweigh the utility of one solely centred on taxonomic composition in explaining the structure and function of ecological communities. Such a shift in focus has resulted in a considerable increase in the number of scientific studies examining links between individual traits and the environment. In the realm of plant ecology, particular traits have been shown to respond consistently to changes in the environment. Collectively, these traits are termed plant functional response traits and are increasingly used to explain how plant functional composition responds to environmental change, particularly along environmental gradients of disturbance.
In this study, we utilise an a priori knowledge of how plant functional response traits linked to disturbances such as grazing intensity, agricultural intensification and land-use abandonment to infer land-use drivers of temporal change (over ca. 30 years). We also adopt relatively new metrics to derive composite indices of functional diversity to investigate shifts in community assembly mechanisms over time. Moreover our approach was applied to a national-scale temporal vegetation dataset of a globally rare semi natural grassland termed ‘Machair’, an extremely complex, species-rich, costal dune plain of ecological and cultural importance
Baseline data was derived from the Scottish Coastal Survey first collated in the mid 1970’s by the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), with the aim to identify ecologically important and sensitive areas of Scotland’s soft coast (i.e. low lying coastal areas composed of sand, shingle or mud). Records included data on plants, habitats, environment and land-use of circa 4000 vegetation plots. As part of the lead author’s PhD thesis, we performed a re-survey of this dataset between 2009 and 2010, focusing specifically on sites known to include Machair, providing temporal data for most of the western and northern seaboard of Scotland.
This paper, the first of a series that make use of this unique dataset for investigating temporal patterns of change, discusses the observed shifts in functional traits and functional diversity indices over time, the potential causations driving these relative to land-use practices on the Machair, and the utility of our methods for inferring temporal drivers of functional compositional change.