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Ecology. 2007 Jul;88(7):1707-15.

Scale-dependent variation in coral community similarity across sites, islands, and island groups.

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Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Community similarity is the proportion of species richness in a region that is shared on average among communities within that region. The slope of local richness (alpha diversity) regressed on regional richness (gamma diversity) can serve as an index of community similarity across regions with different regional richness. We examined community similarity in corals at three spatial scales (among transects at a site, sites on an island, and islands within an island group) across a 10 000-km longitudinal diversity gradient in the west-central Pacific Ocean. When alpha diversity was regressed on gamma diversity, the slopes, and thus community similarity, increased with scale (0.085, 0.261, and 0.407, respectively) because a greater proportion of gamma diversity was subsumed within alpha diversity as scale increased. Using standard randomization methods, we also examined how community similarity differed between observed and randomized assemblages and how this difference was affected by spatial separation of species within habitat types and specialization of species to three habitat types (reef flats, crests, and slopes). If spatial separation within habitat types and/or habitat specialization (i.e., underdispersion) occurs, fewer species are shared among assemblages than the random expectation. When the locations of individual coral colonies were randomized within and among habitat types, community similarity was 46-47% higher than that for observed assemblages at all three scales. We predicted that spatial separation of coral species within habitat types should increase with scale due to dispersal/extinction dynamics in this insular system, but that specialization of species to different habitat types should not change because habitat differences do not change with scale. However, neither habitat specialization nor spatial separation within habitat types differed among scales. At the two larger scales, each accounted for 22-24% of the difference in community similarity between observed and randomized assemblages. At the smallest scale (transect-site), neither spatial separation within habitat types nor habitat specialization had significant effects on community similarity, probably due to the small size of transect samples. The results suggest that coral species can disperse among islands in an island group as easily as they can among sites on an island over time scales that are relevant to their establishment and persistence on reefs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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