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Is plant community richness regulated over time? Contrasting results from experiments and long-term observations

Sarah C. Elmendorf and Susan P. Harrison
Ecology
Vol. 92, No. 3 (March 2011), pp. 602-609
Published by: Wiley
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41151178
Page Count: 8
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Is plant community richness regulated over time? Contrasting results from experiments and long-term observations
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Abstract

There is considerable debate among ecologists as to whether or not communities are saturated. In saturated communities, species richness should remain relatively constant over time, despite compositional turnover, because richness is negatively correlated with colonization and positively correlated with local extinction. Few studies have tested for saturation using temporal observational data as well as diversity-perturbation experiments. We analyzed 10 years of data for plant species richness at 71 sites on contrasting serpentine and non-serpentine soils within Californian (USA) grasslands. We also manipulated local richness and measured its effects on immigration and extinction. Consistent with saturation, we observed that richness was positively correlated with extinction rates and negatively correlated with colonization rates, and randomization tests confirmed that diversity fluctuated less than expected by chance. However, experimental species additions and removals did not affect extinction or colonization, suggesting that richness is not regulated by local species interactions. Instead, we propose three reasons why richness may fluctuate within narrow limits causing the appearance of saturation in temporal observational data sets: negatively autocorrelated patterns of biotic response to yearly conditions, differential affinities of particular species for local conditions, or stochastic abundance-dependent colonization and extinction rates. We illustrate the latter using a metacommunity model.

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