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Oecologia. 2011 Jul;166(3):761-8. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-1916-1. Epub 2011 Jan 29.

Dominant species, rather than diversity, regulates temporal stability of plant communities.

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  • 1Graduate School of Life Sciences, Tohoku University, 6-3 Aoba, Aramaki, Aoba-ku, Sendai, 980-8578, Japan.


A growing body of empirical evidence suggests that the temporal stability of communities typically increases with diversity. The counterview to this is that dominant species, rather than diversity itself, might regulate temporal stability. However, empirical studies that have explicitly examined the relative importance of diversity and dominant species in maintaining community stability have yielded few clear-cut patterns. Here, using a long-term data set, we examined the relative importance of changes in diversity components and dominance hierarchy following the removal of a dominant C4 grass, Bouteloua gracilis, in stabilizing plant communities. We also examined the relationships between the variables of diversity and dominance hierarchy and the statistical components of temporal stability. We found a significant negative relationship between temporal stability and species richness, number of rare species, and relative abundance of rare species, whereas a significant positive relationship existed between temporal stability and relative abundance of the dominant species. Variances and covariances summed over all species significantly increased with increasing species richness, whereas they significantly decreased with increasing relative abundance of dominant species. We showed that temporal stability in a shortgrass steppe plant community was controlled by dominant species rather than by diversity itself. The generality of diversity-stability relationships might be restricted by the dynamics of dominant species, especially when they have characteristics that contribute to stability in highly stochastic systems. A clear implication is that dominance hierarchies and their changes might be among the most important ecological components to consider in managing communities to maintain ecosystem functioning.

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