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Title: Plant functional diversity and ecosystem properties : a contribution from the Park Grass Experiment
Author: Bennett, Christopher
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2011
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The Park Grass Experiment (PGE) was started in 1856 as an investigation into the impact of organic and inorganic fertilisers on hay yields and is now the world's longest running ecological experiment. Functional ecology involves describing plant communities by traits, which give an indication of how the community responds under different stresses and the effect on the rest of the ecosystem. Describing communities by traits removes some of the complexities associated with a taxonomic approach. A comprehensive long term dataset was re-analysed in relation to functional traits (CSR (competitiors, stress tolerators and ruderals) and functional diversity indices) and how they correlate with nutrient treatment and productivity and their power to explain variance in predicting community stability. The most abundant species on the PGE were sampled to investigate the effect of different fertilisers on leaf traits and the link between leaf traits and productivity. The leaf traits were also used to investigate the palatability of the species and communities on the PGE. Biomass samples were taken from the PGE and separated into species. Leaves were also taken from the most abundant species for analysis of specific leaf area (SLA), leaf dry matter content (LDMC), leaf nitrogen content (LNC) and leaf tensile strength. The palatability experiment was conducted as a preference experiment of leaf discs of the different species to snails and locusts. The community CSR signature varied across the treatments; community C increased and community S decreased with nutrient input. The response of the communities to drought was best described by functional diversity. Species found on the plots that had greater productivity have higher SLA and LNC than those from plots with lower productivity. Intra-specific differences in SLA and LDMC were observed and mirrored the inter-specific response to productivity. Community-weighted palatability decreased with fertilisation; this was due to the changes from dicots to monocots. Dicots were generally more palatable and more abundant in low fertility plots but monocots did show a positive correlation between palatability and fertility. Different traits correlated significantly with either productivity (SLA) or palatability (tensile strength), suggesting that a suite of traits is required when making inferences about ecosystem function.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available