Plants link above- and belowground subsystems, and a recent study in AoB PLANTS suggests that their phylogenetic relationships leave a “fingerprint” on belowground communities. Gorman et al. found that after correcting for evolutionary history, tree species identity influenced belowground arthropod communities through plant functional traits. These data suggest that plant species structure may be an important predictor in shaping associated soil arthropod communities and further suggest the importance of better understanding the extended consequences of evolutionary history for ecological processes, as similarity in traits may not always reflect similar ecology.
The importance of regeneration to plant habitat specialization has been poorly studied. ten Brink et al. examine the adaptive association between germination ecology and specialization to either forest or open habitats in a comparative experiment using 17 congeneric species pairs with contrasting habitat preference. They find that seeds of forest and open habitat species respond differently to environmental cues. In a conceptual model they show that species from the two habitats are adapted to utilize different windows of opportunity in time (season) and space (habitat), and they suggest that phases in the plant life cycle other than the established phase should be considered important in adaptive specialization.
Fine-root decomposition is an important determinant of nutrient and carbon cycling in grasslands, but little is known about the factors controlling interspecific root decomposition. By studying 18 Mediterranean herbaceous species from different life histories and taxonomic groups, Birouste et al. demonstrate that the potential decomposition rate of fine roots is affected by root chemical composition but not by morphological traits. Patterns of root traits, including decomposition rate, mirror those of leaves, resulting in a similar clustering of species.