Plant diversity increases with the strength of negative density dependence at the global scale

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Science  30 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1389-1392
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam5678

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Maintaining tree diversity

Negative interaction among plant species is known as conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD). This ecological pattern is thought to maintain higher species diversity in the tropics. LaManna et al. tested this hypothesis by comparing how tree species diversity changes with the intensity of local biotic interactions in tropical and temperate latitudes (see the Perspective by Comita). Stronger local specialized biotic interactions seem to prevent erosion of biodiversity in tropical forests, not only by limiting populations of common species, but also by strongly stabilizing populations of rare species, which tend to show higher CNDD in the tropics.

Science, this issue p. 1389; see also p. 1328


Theory predicts that higher biodiversity in the tropics is maintained by specialized interactions among plants and their natural enemies that result in conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD). By using more than 3000 species and nearly 2.4 million trees across 24 forest plots worldwide, we show that global patterns in tree species diversity reflect not only stronger CNDD at tropical versus temperate latitudes but also a latitudinal shift in the relationship between CNDD and species abundance. CNDD was stronger for rare species at tropical versus temperate latitudes, potentially causing the persistence of greater numbers of rare species in the tropics. Our study reveals fundamental differences in the nature of local-scale biotic interactions that contribute to the maintenance of species diversity across temperate and tropical communities.

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