Climate moderates release from nutrient limitation in natural annual plant communities

Dwyer, John M., Hobbs, Richard J., Wainwright, Claire E. and Mayfield, Margaret M. (2015) Climate moderates release from nutrient limitation in natural annual plant communities. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 24 5: 549-561. doi:10.1111/geb.12277

Author Dwyer, John M.
Hobbs, Richard J.
Wainwright, Claire E.
Mayfield, Margaret M.
Title Climate moderates release from nutrient limitation in natural annual plant communities
Journal name Global Ecology and Biogeography   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1466-8238
Publication date 2015-05-01
Year available 2015
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/geb.12277
Open Access Status
Volume 24
Issue 5
Start page 549
End page 561
Total pages 13
Place of publication Oxford, United Kingdom
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing
Collection year 2016
Language eng
Formatted abstract

To assess the combined influences of nutrient enrichment, invasive species and climate on assembly processes in natural annual plant communities.


South-west Western Australia.


A comprehensive survey of winter annual plant communities (more than a thousand communities sampled in total) was undertaken across a natural moisture availability gradient in phosphorus (P)-limited York gum woodlands exposed to different levels of anthropogenic P enrichment. Three key functional traits (height, seed mass and specific leaf area) were measured incorporating intraspecific variation. Community richness, dominance of exotic species and trait distributions were investigated along local nutrient and regional climate gradients using hierarchical linear models. Results were assessed against expectations of moisture-regulated release from nutrient limitation based on trade-off theories and experimental findings of synergistic water and nutrient effects.


Consistent with theoretical expectations, we identified significant interactions between local P levels and regional moisture availability for many of the response variables examined. Specifically, in communities exposed to both high P and high moisture we found: (1) reduced species richness, (2) high dominance of exotic species, (3) increases in community mean trait values and (4) strongly narrowing trait ranges. These results are consistent with competitive exclusion (via light competition). In naturally low-P situations we also identified shifting trait distributions and narrowing ranges as moisture stress increased, a finding consistent with environmental filtering.

Main conclusion

In this P- and water-limited system, plant community responses to P enrichment are contingent on regional moisture availability in a non-additive fashion. The most dramatic changes are seen under high-P and high-moisture conditions, i.e. where productivity is high and light has become a major limiting resource. By empirically validating theory, this study enhances our ability to predict ecological responses to multifaceted drivers of global change.
Keyword Annual plants
Climate change
Functional traits
Species invasions
York gum woodlands
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2016 Collection
School of Biological Sciences Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 4 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
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