- Disturbances are characteristic for many ecosystems. However, we still lack generalizations concerning their role in shaping communities, particularly when disturbances co-occur. To study such effects, we used a novel modeling approach that is unrestricted by a priori tradeoffs among specific plant traits, except for those generated by allocation principles. Thus, trait combinations were emergent properties associated with biotic and abiotic constraints. Specifically, we asked which traits dominate under specific disturbance regimes, whether single and combined disturbance regimes promote similar trait tradeoffs and how complex disturbance regimes affect species richness and functional diversity. Overall, disturbances' temporal properties governed the outcome of combined disturbances and were a stronger assortative force than spatial disturbance properties: low temporal predictability decreased seed-dispersability and dormancy, but increased competitive ability and disturbance tolerance. Evidence for tradeoffs between different colonization modes and between dormancy and disturbance tolerance were found, while surprisingly, the widely accepted colonization-competition tradeoff was not generated. Diversity was highest at intermediate disturbance intensity, but decreased monotonically with increasing unpredictability. In accordance with our results, future models should avoid restrictive assumptions about tradeoffs to generate robust and more general predictions about the role of disturbances for community dynamics. (C) 2011 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.