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Spatial environmental heterogeneity may be the driver of functional trait variation in Hydrocotyle vulgaris (Araliaceae), an aquatic plant invader

Ji-Zhong Wan, Mo-Zhu Wang, Tian-Jian Qin, Xiang-Qi Bu, Hong-Li Li*, Fei-Hai Yu

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Aquatic plant invasion has the potential to threaten ecosystem stability and biodiversity in non-native ranges. Hence, it is necessary to prevent and control the invasion of aquatic plants. While environmental heterogeneity might drive functional trait variation in plant species across different spatial scales, the drivers of trait variation over a large spatial scale are not well understood for aquatic plant invaders. Understanding functional trait variation across space and potential environmental drivers might improve the understanding of habitable conditions for predicting where an invasive plant species might be found. Here, we studied Hydrocotyle vulgaris (Araliaceae) in Zhejiang Province, China, and propose the hypothesis that environmental spatial heterogeneity might drive functional trait variation of the invasive aquatic plant, H. vulgaris, across a large scale. The investigation was conducted across 99 plots at seven sites with H. vulgaris. We found that a significant variation in functional traits existed over a large scale, and the functional traits were significantly different across a variety of environmental conditions. Specifically, there were significant linear relationships between environmental factors (i.e. temperature, precipitation, solar radiation, and water vapor pressure) and functional traits, including specific leaf area, interval length and specific interval length across different environmental conditions indicating that spatial environmental heterogeneity might drive the variation in functional traits (especially leaf and clonal traits) of H. vulgaris, over a large spatial scale. Due to the wide variation in functional traits of H. vulgaris over a large scale, our study could provide new insights into understanding the invasiveness of H. vulgaris.