The importance of species pool size for community composition

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Abstract

We investigated if an increase in species pool size leads to more pronounced turnover in local communities and assessed if this increase relates to stronger competition for environmental niches or to more random placement of species. We compared compositional turnover of pteridophytes (ferns and lycophytes) at 15 sites in mountain ecosystems on 13 islands in southeast Asia and Melanesia that mainly differed in the size of their species pool. Each site was sampled with 16 plots of 20 × 20 m2. Using multiple regression on distance matrices, we investigated the relationship between environmental distance and compositional turnover at different spatial extents within sites with different species pool sizes. Additionally, we tested the hypothesis that the intensity of competition increases with increasing species pool size. This was done by assessing how realized niche overlap and unevenness of communities relate to environmental distance and species pool size. With increasing species pool size, there was an increase in: a) proportional turnover in community composition, b) the importance of environmental distance for explaining turnover in community composition and c) a decrease in environmental niche overlap between species indicating an increasing importance of competition for community composition. Our results support the idea that increasing species pool size increases the competition for available environmental niches, and thereby leads to a tighter connection between environmental factors and community composition.

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