Background: High values of specific leaf area (SLA) are generally associated with high maximal growth rates in resource-rich conditions, such as mesic climates and fertile soils. However, fire may complicate this relationship since its frequency varies with both climate and soil fertility, and fire frequency selects for regeneration strategies (resprouting versus seeding) that are not independent of resource-acquisition strategies. Shared ancestry is also expected to affect the distribution of resource-use and regeneration traits.

Aims: We examined climate, soil, and fire as drivers of community-level variation in a key functional trait, SLA, in chaparral in California.

Methods: We quantified the phylogenetic, functional, and environmental non-independence of key traits for 87 species in 115 plots.

Results: Among species, SLA was higher in resprouters than seeders, although not after phylogeny correction. Among communities, mean SLA was lower in harsh interior climates, but in these climates it was higher on more fertile soils and on more recently burned sites; in mesic coastal climates, mean SLA was uniformly high despite variation in soil fertility and fire history.

Conclusions: We conclude that because important correlations exist among both species traits and environmental filters, interpreting the functional and phylogenetic structure of communities may require an understanding of complex interactive effects.



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NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Nishanta Rajakaruna was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly. This is an electronic version of an article published in Plant Ecology & Diversity.

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