Plant functional traits reveal strong effects of anoxia and nutrient limitation on species pool filtering in a riverine rich fen system

Background: In fens, plant species composition is predominantly controlled by two environmental factors: root anoxia and low nutrient availability.

Aims: We asked how these filters were reflected to the functional structure of plant communities in natural and drained rich fens.

Methods: We analysed traits related to species response to anoxia and nutrient availability, using single-trait and multi-trait approaches in fens of a river valley (Biebrza, Poland). We evaluated results concerning multi-trait indices using a null model consisting of simulated communities.

Results: Mycorrhizal status and specific leaf area (SLA) clearly distinguished the communities with different levels of anoxia and nutrient deficiency. Mean values, ranges and variance of canopy height showed the differences in the distribution of plant heights among analysed communities.

Conclusions: Functional traits distinguish plant communities of the most endangered mesotrophic fens from eutrophic and drained fens. We highlight the role of nutrient and oxygen deficiency in the assembly of fen vegetation and show the impact of the altered environment on the composition of communities in degraded habitats. We demonstrate that single-trait indices are suitable for identifying of environmental filtering in different types of fen communities. We suggest that caution is justified when using multi-trait indices to assess vegetation patterns.