Variation in plant functional traits across and within four species of Western Australian Banksia (Proteaceae) along a natural climate gradient

Anne Cochrane*, Gemma L. Hoyle, Colin J. Yates, Teresa Neeman, Adrienne B. Nicotra

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Plant traits are fundamental components of the ecological strategies of plants, relating to how plants acquire and use resources. Their study provides insight into the dynamics of species geographical ranges in changing environments. Here, we assessed the variation in trait values at contrasting points along an environmental gradient to provide insight into the flexibility of species response to environmental heterogeneity. Firstly, we identified how commonly measured functional traits of four congeneric species (Banksia baxteri, B. coccinea, B. media and B. quercifolia) varied along a longitudinal gradient in the South Western Australian Floristic Region. This regional gradient provides significant variation in moisture, temperature and soil nutrients: soil nitrogen content decreases with declining rainfall and increasing temperature. We hypothesized that (i) the regional pattern in trait–environment associations across the species would match those observed on a global scale and (ii) that the direction and slopes of the within-species relationships would be similar to those across species for each of the measured traits. Along the regional gradient we observed strong shifts in trait values, and cross-species relationships followed the expected trend: specific leaf area was significantly lower, and leaf Narea and seed dry mass significantly higher, at the drier end of the rainfall gradient. However, traits within species were generally not well correlated with habitat factors: we found weak patterns among populations, either due to the small ecological gradient or perhaps because fine-scale structuring among populations (at a micro-evolutionary scale) was low due to high gene flow within species. Understanding how species traits shift as a result of climatic influences, both at the regional (across species) and local (within species) scale, provides insight into plant adaptation to the environment. Such studies have important applications for conservation biology and population management in the face of global change.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)886-896
    Number of pages11
    JournalAustral Ecology
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


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