Additional Figures and Table from Leaf trait variability between and within subalpine grassland species differs depending on site conditions and herbivory

Plant traits are commonly used to predict ecosystem-level processes, but the validity of such predictions is dependent on the assumption that trait variability between species is greater than trait variability within a species—the robustness assumption. Here, we compare leaf trait intraspecific and interspecific variability depending on: geographical differences between sites, and 5 years of experimental herbivore exclusion in two vegetation types of subalpine grasslands in Switzerland. Four-leaf traits were measured from eight herbaceous species common to all 18 sites. Intraspecific trait variability differed significantly depending on site and herbivory. However, the amount and structure of variability depended on the trait measured and whether considering leaf traits separately or multiple leaf traits simultaneously. Leaf phosphorus (P) concentration showed the highest intraspecific variability, while specific leaf area (SLA) showed the highest interspecific variability and displayed intraspecific variability only in response to herbivore exclusion. Species identity based on multiple traits was not predictable. We find intraspecific variability is an essential consideration when using plant functional traits as a common currency not just species mean traits. This is particularly true for leaf nutrient concentrations, which showed high intraspecific variability in response to site differences and herbivore exclusion; a finding which suggests that the robustness assumption does not always hold.