Logging and soil nutrients independently explain plant trait expression in tropical forests

Sabine Both (Corresponding Author), Terhi Riutta, C. E. Timothy Paine, Dafydd M. O. Elias, Rudi Chino, Annuar Jain, David Johnson, Ully H. Kritzler, Marianne Kuntz, Noreen Majalap-Lee, Nora Mielke, Milenka X. Montoya Pillco, Nicholas J. Ostle, Yit A. Teh, Yadvinder Malhi, David F. R. P. Burslem

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Plant functional traits regulate ecosystem functions but little is known about how co-occurring gradients of land use and edaphic conditions influence their expression. We test how gradients of logging disturbance and soil properties relate to community-weighted mean traits in logged and old-growth tropical forests in Borneo.
•We studied 32 physical, chemical and physiological traits from 284 tree species in eight 1 ha plots and measured long-term soil nutrient supplies and plant-available nutrients.
•Logged plots had greater values for traits that drive carbon capture and growth, whilst old-growth forests had greater values for structural and persistence traits. Although disturbance was the primary driver of trait expression, soil nutrients explained a statistically independent axis of variation linked to leaf size and nutrient concentration. Soil characteristics influenced trait expression via nutrient availability, nutrient pools, and pH.
•Our finding, that traits have dissimilar responses to land use and soil resource availability, provides robust evidence for the need to consider the abiotic context of logging when predicting plant functional diversity across human-modified tropical forests. The detection of two independent axes was facilitated by the measurement of many more functional traits than have
been examined in previous studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1853-1865
Number of pages13
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number4
Early online date20 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • anthropogenic disturbance
  • Borneo
  • functional diversity
  • functional traits
  • and use
  • Rao’s Q
  • tropical rainforest
  • variance partitioning


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