Intraspecific variation drives community-level stoichiometric responses to nitrogen and water enrichment in a temperate steppe


The responses of functional structures in plant communities to global change drivers is predicted to be driven by both species turnover and intraspecific trait variability (ITV). However, the relative importance of those two drivers is not well-known, which retards our ability to predict the functional changes of plant community under global change scenarios. We hypothesized that ITV rather than species turnover would drive the nutritional responses of plant community at the initial stage after nitrogen and water enrichment. We measured community weighted means (CWM) and non-weighted means (CM) of foliar N and P concentrations and N:P ratio in a temperate steppe after two years factorial N and water addition. Species composition and nutrition traits of each species were recorded in each plot. The impacts of N addition on community level nutrition traits were highly dependent on water conditions, as indicated by significant interactive effects between N and water addition. Nitrogen addition significantly increased CWM of foliar N, but only under ambient water condition. Water addition decreased CWM of foliar P and increased that of N:P. Consistent with our hypothesis, communities responded to both N and water addition after two years treatments mainly through ITV. Our results highlight the importance of ITV in driving short-term responses of community functional composition to the increases of nitrogen and water availability in the temperate steppe. The existence of interactive effects of N and water addition would make it more difficult to predict the impacts of N deposition on plant-mediated biogeochemical cycling under the scenarios of precipitation regime changes than previously assumed.

In Plant and Soil