Plant community flood resilience in intensively managed grasslands and the role of the plant economic spectrum

Natalie J. Oram (Corresponding author), Gerlinde De Deyn, Paul Bodelier, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen, Jan Willem van Groenigen, Diego Abalos

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The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, such as floods, requires management strategies that promote resilience of grassland productivity. Mixtures of plant species may better resist and recover from flooding than monocultures, as they could combine species with stress‐coping and resource acquisition traits. This has not yet been tested in intensively managed grasslands despite its relevance for enhancing agroecosystem resilience.
Using intact soil cores from an 18‐month‐old field experiment, we tested how 11 plant communities (Festuca arundinacea, Lolium perenne, Poa trivialis and Trifolium repens in monoculture, two‐ and four‐species mixtures) resist and recover from repeated flooding in a 4‐month greenhouse experiment.
We found that plant community composition, not whether the community was a mixture or monoculture, influenced the community's resistance to flooding, although most communities were able to resist and recover from both floods.
The plant community's position on the leaf economic spectrum in flooded conditions was related to its resistance to and recovery from flooding. Resistance to and recovery from a severe flood were related to flood‐induced intraspecific trait variation, causing a shift in the community's position on the leaf resource economic spectrum. In flooded conditions, resource‐conservative communities (characterized by low specific leaf area, low leaf nitrogen content and high leaf dry matter content) better resisted and recovered from flooding. The community's position on the root resource economic spectrum was less connected to the community's resistance and recovery.
Synthesis and applications. Our study shows that in flooded conditions, resource‐conservative plant communities are more resilient to flooding than resource‐acquisitive communities in an intensively managed grassland. This suggests that plant community position on the leaf economic spectrum, as well as species’ flood‐induced intraspecific variation, should be considered when designing grasslands to withstand increasing flood frequency and severity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1524-1534
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number8
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


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