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Am Nat. 2009 Dec;174(6):850-62. doi: 10.1086/647903.

Dominant species and diversity: linking relative abundance to controls of species establishment.

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Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research Center, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T1Z4, Canada.


Ecological theories make divergent predictions about whether extant species inhibit or promote the establishment of new species and which aspects of community composition determine these interactions; diversity, individual dominant species, and neutral interactions have all been argued to be most important. We experimentally tested these predictions by removing plant biomass (0%, 7%, 100%) from boreal forest understory communities. The 7% removals were restricted to the numerically dominant species, the second most dominant species, or many low-abundance species, thereby separating the effects of species composition from those of biomass. We tested the effects of all removal treatments on seedling establishment. Competitive effects were driven by one dominant species and were inconsistent with resource complementarity, neutral, or competition-colonization models. Facilitative effects were apparent only following removal of all vegetation, of which the most dominant species comprised more than 80%. Our results indicate that numerically dominant species in a community can influence the establishment of new species more than species diversity, but the direction of interaction can shift from facilitative to competitive as community density increases.

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