A test of priority effect persistence in semi-natural grasslands through the removal of plant functional groups during community assembly
Background It is known that during plant community assembly, the early colonizing species can affect the establishment, growth or reproductive success of later arriving species, often resulting in unpredictable assembly outcomes. These so called ‘priority effects’ have recently been hypothesized to work through niche-based processes, with early colonizing species either inhibiting the colonization of other species of the same niche through niche preemption, or affecting the colonization success of species of different niches through niche modification. With most work on priority effects performed in controlled, short-term mesocosm experiments, we have little insight in how niche preemption and niche modification processes interact to shape the community composition of natural vegetations. In this study, we used a functional trait approach to identify potential niche-based priority effects in restored semi-natural grasslands. More specifically, we imposed two treatments that strongly altered the community’s functional trait composition; removal of all graminoid species and removal of all legume species, and we compared progressing assembly with unaltered control plots.