Functional traits as predictors of community assembly and ecosystem function in restored prairies
Results/Conclusions Our ability to explain variation in ecosystem function using traits and environmental conditions ranged widely (R2=0.2 to 0.76). We found evidence for trait-based community assembly, as all functional traits were explained by environmental conditions (R2=0.17 to 0.37). For example, fire frequency and plant height were positively correlated. Some functions were strongly influenced by trait composition, such as plant height and floral cover, which were negatively correlated. Traits also ranged in the degree to which they were correlated with one another (r=0.7-0.92) and this provided insights into variation in function. For example, sand content and vegetative mass were negatively related, vegetative mass was highly correlated with plant height, and plant height was negatively related to floral cover. Certain functions were explained by environmental conditions alone (e.g., sand content was negatively correlated with decomposition). Together, these results suggest that both trait composition and environmental conditions play a role in shaping ecosystem function during restoration, and the importance of each is dependent on the function of interest. A trait-based approach to restoration can afford a mechanistic understanding of community assembly and ecosystem function. By using management techniques to alter environmental conditions, we might predictably influence restoration outcomes.