Multiple trait associations in relation to habitat differentiation among 17 Floridian oak species

Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Kaoru Kitajima, F. A. Bazzaz

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215 Scopus citations


Differentiation of species distributions along environmental gradients and phenotypic specialization help explain the co-presence of 17 oak species that might otherwise be expected to competitively exclude one another. In an effort to understand the role of niche differentiation in the co-presence of these congeneric species in north-central Florida, we examined the community structure of oak-dominated forests in this region in relation to environmental variables and a suite of life history and physiological traits. Landscape distribution patterns of oaks and other woody species were determined from randomly established plots in three state parks. Soil moisture, nutrient availability, and fire regime were found to be critical factors influencing community structure, and the distribution of oak species was strongly correlated with these gradients. Detrended correspondence analysis of species' distributions supported the grouping of oak species into three major community types: (1) hammock, (2) sandhill, and (3) scrub. Principal components of multiple traits also supported differentiation of oak species into these three groups. There is clear evidence for ecological sorting among the oaks in these forests as species partition environmental gradients more than expected by chance, and most functional traits of species correspond to species distributions as predicted based on a priori understanding of trait function. Across phylogenetic lineages, species showed evolutionary convergence in function and habitat preference. In contrast, leaf-level traits were conserved within phylogenetic lineages and were not well correlated with local habitat factors, but rather with the broader geographic distributions and northern range limits of species. The cumulative results reported here provide strong evidence that oak species specialize for particular niches via trade-offs in functional traits, and such niche partitioning contributes to the high diversity of oak species at the landscape level. At smaller spatial scales, phylogenetic diversity among the oaks is likely to be important in promoting their coexistence through other mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-662
Number of pages28
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Detrended correspondence analysis
  • Fire regime
  • Functional traits
  • Leaf life span
  • Phylogenetic lineage
  • Quercus
  • Soil moisture
  • Soil nutrients


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