Forest community assembly is driven by different strata-dependent mechanisms along an elevational gradient

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Journal of Biogeography



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environmental filtering, facilitation, functional diversity, limiting similarity, phylogenetic diversity, subalpine forest


© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Aim: The mechanisms driving forest community assembly along elevational gradients remain elusive. The distinct strata in heterogeneous forest are subject to differing assembly mechanisms. This study aims to evaluate how different ecological mechanisms driving forest community assembly across strata and spatial scales, and to identify how these assemblages respond to different abiotic or biotic variables along an elevational gradient. Location: Yulong Mountain within Hengduan Mountains, Southwest China. Taxon: Seed plants. Methods: We sampled plant species along a 1,200 m elevational gradient across forest strata (trees, shrubs and herbs) at different spatial scales (neighbourhood and community). We integrated phylogenetic and functional diversity to disentangle the roles of ecological mechanisms in structuring community assembly. We also determined the relative effects of climatic, soil and biotic variables and their interactions on these community assemblages. Results: The phylogenetic and functional diversity of trees were lower at the extremes of the elevational gradient, where they were constrained by water availability or temperature. While communities with higher species diversity exhibited an overdispersed structure at mid-elevations. For shrubs, overdispersion was exhibited at high elevations despite low species richness, which could be consistent with facilitative interactions or competition exclusion. However, most communities of herbs appear to have a markedly random structure, despite some incongruence between phylogenetic divergence and functional convergence, as well as influences from overstorey trees and local light conditions. The relative effects of abiotic variables on community structure were larger at the community scale than at the neighbourhood scale. Main conclusions: Our study emphasises the importance of considering phylogenies and traits in understanding the strata- and scale-dependent mechanisms of forest community assembly. Collectively, results indicate that contrasting assembly mechanisms interact across different strata along elevational gradients to shape diverse forest communities.

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