Basic and Applied Ecology vol:5 issue:6 pages:551-566
Classifying species into functional groups reacting similar to multiple environmental factors based on shared biological characteristics forms a major challenge faced by present-day ecologists. Based on data of a hedgerow plant community, this study uses a multivariate approach to analyse if trait-based emergent species groups have real functional. significance, i.e. if these groups are characterised by specific response profiles to a wide range of environmental factors. First, the influence of explanatory variable groups (abiotic environmental. conditions, management variables, structural aspects, historical background and spatial configuration of the hedgerow network) on distribution patterns of individual plant species was analysed with partial logistic regression. Significant relationships were found between the ecological characteristics of a species and the relative importance of variable groups affecting the distribution of that species within a hedgerow network landscape. Next, a trait-based classification of hedgerow plant species was constructed using a hierarchical clustering procedure. Woody species segregated into two distinct groups, with differences predominantly associated with generative traits, herbaceous species in four groups differing mainly in vegetative traits and habitat preferences. Clear differences in response to multiple environmental factors between the emergent species groups demonstrated the functional significance of the constructed classification. Relationships between the trait- and response profile were examined and their ecological relevance discussed. With respect to the woody species groups, zoochorous species were affected more strongly by hedgerow structure and landscape context than anemochorous species. For the herbaceous species clustering, a relatively strong impact was found, amongst others, of historical variables on species with woodland preference in comparison with other species groups. (C) 2004 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.