(1) We investigated the variation in tree fine root traits and their functional diversity along a local topographic gradient in a Neotropical montane forest to test if fine root trait variation along the gradient is consistent with the predictions of the root economics spectrum on a shift from acquisitive to conservative traits with decreasing resource supply. (2) We measured five fine root functional traits in 179 randomly selected tree individuals of 100 species and analyzed the variation of single traits (using Bayesian phylogenetic multi-level models) and of functional trait diversity with small scale topography. (3) Fine roots exhibited more conservative traits (thicker diameters, lower specific root length and nitrogen concentration) at upper slope compared to lower slope positions, but the largest proportion of variation (40-80%) was explained by species identity and phylogeny. Fine root functional diversity decreased towards the upper slopes. (4) Our results suggest that local topography and the related soil fertility and moisture gradients cause considerable small-scale variation in fine root traits and functional diversity along tropical mountain slopes, with conservative root traits and greater trait convergence being associated with less favorable soil conditions due to environmental filtering. We provide evidence of a high degree of phylogenetic conservation in fine root traits.This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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