Using a model based fourth-corner analysis to explain vegetation change following an extraordinary fire disturbance
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In ecosystems where large-scale disturbances are infrequent, the mode of succession may be difficult to discern and floristic surveys alone cannot be used determine the underlying processes causing vegetation change. To determine the causes of vegetation change in response to a large-scale fire event, we combined traditional floristic survey data, plant functional traits and environmental variables in a model-based solution to the fourth-corner problem. This approach allowed us to describe the trait-environment relationship and provides an intuitive matrix of environment by trait interaction coefficients. We could then quantify the strength and direction of associations between plant traits, species life-forms and environmental factors in two alpine plant communities over nine years post-fire. Initially, the fire drastically reduced vegetation cover and species density to very low levels. The fourth-corner analysis interaction coefficients indicated that over the course of the nine-year study a high abundance of graminoids, a low abundance of shrubs, tall species and those with high leaf dry matter content had the strongest associations with the two plant communities. We also found evidence for functional homogenisation between these two communities using this novel technique. Analysing plant traits and species responses post-fire in this manner can be used to infer the ecological processes driving shifts in vegetation.
Ecology not elsewhere classified