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Ecology. 2008 Aug;89(8):2172-80.

Perturbations alter community convergence, divergence, and formation of multiple community states.

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1
W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, Michigan 49060-9516, USA. houseman@ku.edu

Abstract

Environmental perturbations (e.g., disturbance, fertilization) commonly shift communities to a new mean state, but much less is known about their effects on the variability (dispersion) of communities around the mean, particularly when perturbations are combined. Community dispersion may increase or decrease (representing a divergence or convergence among communities) if changing environmental conditions alter species interactions or magnify small initial differences that develop during community assembly. We used data from an experimental study of disturbance and fertilization in a low-productivity grassland to test how these two perturbations affect patterns of species composition and abundance. We found that a one-time biomass reduction decreased community dispersion, which persisted over four growing seasons. Conversely, continuous fertilization increased community dispersion and, when combined with disturbance, led to the formation of three distinct community states. These results illustrate that perturbations can have differing effects on community dispersion. Attention to the variance in community responses to perturbations lends insight into how ecological interactions determine community structure, which may be missed when focusing only on mean responses. Furthermore, multiple perturbations may have complex effects on community dispersion, yielding convergence or divergence patterns that are difficult to predict based on analysis of single factors.

PMID:
18724727
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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