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Ecology. 2006 Oct;87(10):2425-32.

Dispersal limitation and environmental heterogeneity shape scale-dependent diversity patterns in plant communities.

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Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Understanding the large-scale distribution of species diversity requires distinguishing two of the primary factors that cause compositional differences: dispersal limitation and environmental variation. In a community with a naturally discontinuous spatial structure, we asked (1) at what scale(s) nonrandom variation in species composition occurs and (2) at what scale(s) such variation is associated with spatial separation, indicative of dispersal limitation, and at what scale(s) variation is associated with environmental heterogeneity? We sampled 50 seeps (small wetlands) on five serpentine outcrops. Using a randomization model, we showed that additive beta diversity (a measure of community dissimilarity) was lower than random within seeps and higher than random among both seeps and outcrops. Using Mantel tests, we showed that plant community dissimilarity, in both the full seep assemblage as well as in a subset of seep endemics, at the two larger scales was associated with different forms of environmental heterogeneity and, at the largest scale, was also associated with geographic distance. We conclude that diversity in this system is shaped by multiple scales of heterogeneity and by dispersal limitation at the largest scale.

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