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Environmental filtering explains variation in plant diversity along resource gradients

Science  26 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6204, pp. 1602-1605
DOI: 10.1126/science.1256330

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How plant species diversity is shaped

Factors controlling plant species diversity have been teased apart in an ancient dune ecosystem in western Australia. Laliberté et al. surveyed plants in the ancient dune, where variation in soil properties is associated with changes in plant diversity. Local plant diversity was mostly determined by environmental filtering from the regional species pool. This process is driven by acidification during long-term soil formation. The findings challenge the prevailing view that resource competition controls local plant diversity.

Science, this issue p. 1602

Abstract

The mechanisms that shape plant diversity along resource gradients remain unresolved because competing theories have been evaluated in isolation. By testing multiple theories simultaneously across a >2-million-year dune chronosequence in an Australian biodiversity hotspot, we show that variation in plant diversity is not explained by local resource heterogeneity, resource partitioning, nutrient stoichiometry, or soil fertility along this strong resource gradient. Rather, our results suggest that diversity is determined by environmental filtering from the regional flora, driven by soil acidification during long-term pedogenesis. This finding challenges the prevailing view that resource competition controls local plant diversity along resource gradients, and instead reflects processes shaping species pools over evolutionary time scales.

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