Biodiv Sci ›› 2013, Vol. 21 ›› Issue (3): 278-287.  DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2013.10012

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Relationships between plant functional traits at the community level and environmental factors during succession in a tropical lowland rainforest on Hainan Island, South China

Wensheng Bu1, Runguo Zang1,*(), Yi Ding1, Junyan Zhang1, Yunze Ruan2   

  1. 1 Institute of Forest Ecology, Environment and Protection, Chinese Academy of Forestry; Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Environment of State Forestry Administration, Beijing 100091
    2 College of Agriculture, Hainan University, Haikou 570228
  • Received:2013-01-09 Accepted:2013-04-03 Online:2013-05-20 Published:2013-06-05
  • Contact: Zang Runguo


We explored how plant functional traits respond to environmental factors and examined the underlying mechanism driving the ecological strategies of plant species in a community. Experiments were conducted at four randomly selected tropical lowland rainforests at different successional stages:15-, 30- and 60-year-old secondary forests and one old-growth forest, each in the Bawangling Nature Reserve of Hainan Island. A total of 200 plots (20 m×20 m) were sampled. Individuals of tree and shrub species with diameter at breast height (DBH) ≥1 cm were identified and both their functional traits and the environmental factors in each plot were measured. ANOVA showed that canopy openness, level of soil nutrients, specific leaf area, and content of total organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus within the leaf decreased at the community level during the successional process. Meanwhile, leaf dry matter content, wood density and potential maximum height increased. However, soil water content and leaf potassium content, changed non-significantly. Multiple regression analysis demonstrated that environmental factors driving functional traits at the community level varied during the successional process. The key environmental factors were soil organic matter and pH value in the 15-year-old secondary forest; canopy openness and soil total phosphorus content in the 30-year-old secondary forest; available phosphorus and total potassium content of the soil in the 60-year-old secondary forest; and soil phosphorus content and organic matter content in the old-growth forest. Our results indicate that at different successional stages, the same functional traits respond to different environmental factors, enabling adaptation to specific environmental conditions.

Key words: tropical lowland rainforest, plant functional traits, secondary succession, shifting cultivation, environmental factors