J Plant Ecol ›› 2019, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (4): 593-602 .DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rty053

• Research Articles •     Next Articles

Intraspecific trait variation improves the detection of deterministic community assembly processes in early successional forests, but not in late successional forests

Shuai Fang1,2, Marc William Cadotte3,4, Zuoqiang Yuan1, Fei Lin1, Ji Ye1, Zhanqing Hao1 and Xugao Wang1,*   

  1. 1 Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China
    2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
    3 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Toronto-Scarborough, Toronto, ON, Canada
    4 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
    *Correspondence address. Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China. Tel: +86-24-83970325; Fax: +86-24-83970300; E-mail: wangxg@iae.ac.cn
  • Received:2018-11-12 Revised:2018-11-29 Accepted:2018-12-08 Published:2019-08-01



Intraspecific trait variation (ITV) has been increasingly recognized to play an important role in understanding the underlying processes influencing community assembly. However, gaps remain in our understanding of how incorporating ITV will influence the relative importance of deterministic (e.g. habitat filtering, limiting similarity) and stochastic processes in driving community assembly at different successional stages.


We used data for eight functional traits from 55 woody species in early (24 ha) and late (25 ha) successional temperate forest plot in northeast China. We employed an approximate Bayesian computation approach to assess the relative contribution of stochastic processes, habitat filtering and limiting similarity in driving community structure. We then compared the results with and without intraspecific trait variation to investigate how ITV influences the inferred importance of each process.

Important Findings

We found that when analyzing interspecific trait variation only (i.e. without ITV), stochastic processes were observed most frequently in driving community composition, followed by habitat filtering and limiting similarity in both forests. However, ITV analyses showed that the relative importance of both deterministic processes (habitat filtering and limiting similarity) increased in early successional forest, but remained virtually unchanged in late successional forest. Our study reveals the distinctive influence of ITV on the inference of underlying processes in a context of succession and reinforces the need to estimate ITV for making correct inferences about underlying ecological processes.

Key words: Changbaishan, community assembly, functional trait, intraspecific trait variation, succession