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Stochastic Community Assembly Causes Higher Biodiversity in More Productive Environments

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Science  27 May 2010:
1187820
DOI: 10.1126/science.1187820

Abstract

Net primary productivity is a principal driver of biodiversity; large-scale regions with higher productivity generally have more species. This pattern emerges because β-diversity (compositional variation across local sites) increases with productivity, but the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are unknown. Using data from a long-term experiment in replicate ponds, I show that higher β-diversity at higher productivity resulted from a stronger role for stochastic relative to deterministic assembly processes with increasing productivity. This shift in the relative importance of stochasticity was most consistent with the hypothesis of more intense priority effects leading to multiple stable equilibria at higher productivity. Thus, shifts in community assembly mechanisms across a productivity gradient may underlie one of the most prominent biodiversity gradients on the planet.