Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Do generalisations of global trade-offs in plant design apply to an Australian sclerophyllous flora?

Trevor L. Meers A F G , Tina L. Bell A D , Neal J. Enright B E and Sabine Kasel C

A Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science, University of Melbourne, Water Street, Creswick, Vic. 3363, Australia.

B Geography Program, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia.

C Department of Forest and Ecosystem Science, University of Melbourne, 500 Yarra Boulevard, Richmond, Vic. 3121, Australia.

D Present address: Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, University of Sydney, Redfern, NSW 2015, Australia.

E Present address: School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150, Australia.

F Present address: Matrixplus Consulting, PO Box 10502, Adelaide Street Post Office, Brisbane, Qld 4001, Australia.

G Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Botany 58(4) 257-270
Submitted: 15 January 2010  Accepted: 29 April 2010   Published: 22 June 2010


Functional-trait analysis at a global scale has found evidence for evolutionary specialisation of species into those designed to acquire resources rapidly and those designed to conserve resources. The present study aimed to determine whether such a trade-off exists in sclerophyllous vegetation in Australia. We measured 10 traits for 167 plant species. The first axis of a principal components analysis represented a trade-off between resource acquisition and resource conservation, consistent with global trends. Common traits shared by resource-conservative species included low specific leaf area (SLA), resprouting, ant-dispersal, and ericoid mycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal associations. These attributes were typical of 3 of 13 functional groups produced by cluster analysis (eucalypts, ant-dispersed shrubs, ericoid heaths) that had the lowest SLA, and were almost exclusively native shrubs and trees. Resource-acquisitive species had high SLA, a small stature, annual life cycle, arbuscular mycorrhizal or non-mycorrhizal associations, and small, wind-dispersed seeds. These attributes are similar to those identified for species with a ruderal strategy and were typical of the functional groups representing wind-dispersed composites, AM annuals and non-mycorrhizal annuals that had the highest SLA and were dominated by introduced species. Comparable trait associations have been found in other studies, suggesting that similar processes drive plant design at a global scale. However, there were some patterns specific to the flora studied that were attributable to adaptations to suit the nutrient-poor soils and arid conditions typical of the Australian environment.


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