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

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Yit Arn TehORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


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.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Both S, Riutta T, Paine CET, Elias DMO, Cruz RS, Jain A, Johnson D, Kritzler UH, Kuntz M, Majalap-Lee N, Mielke N, Montoya-Pillco MX, Ostle NJ, Teh YA, Malhi Y, Burslem DFRP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: New Phytologist

Year: 2019

Volume: 221

Issue: 4

Pages: 1853-1865

Print publication date: 01/03/2019

Online publication date: 20/09/2018

Acceptance date: 12/08/2018

Date deposited: 13/06/2019

ISSN (print): 0028-646X

ISSN (electronic): 1469-8137

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/nph.15444


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