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PLoS One. 2016 May 26;11(5):e0156326. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156326. eCollection 2016.

Detangling the Effects of Environmental Filtering and Dispersal Limitation on Aggregated Distributions of Tree and Shrub Species: Life Stage Matters.

Yang QS1,2, Shen GC1,2, Liu HM1,2, Wang ZH3, Ma ZP1,2, Fang XF1,2, Zhang J1,2, Wang XH1,2.

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School of Ecological and Environmental Science, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.
Tiantong National Station of Forest Ecosystem, Chinese National Ecosystem Observation and Research Network, Ningbo, China.
Shanghai Chenshan Plant Science Research Center, Chinese Academy of Sciences / Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden, Shanghai, China.


The pervasive pattern of aggregated tree distributions in natural communities is commonly explained by the joint effect of two clustering processes: environmental filtering and dispersal limitation, yet little consensus remains on the relative importance of the two clustering processes on tree aggregations. Different life stages of examined species were thought to be one possible explanation of this disagreement, because the effect of environmental filtering and dispersal limitation are expected to increase and decrease with tree life stages, respectively. However, few studies have explicitly tested these expectations. In this study, we evaluated these expectations by three different methods (species-habitat association test based on Poisson Clustering model and spatial point pattern analyses based on Heterogeneous Poisson model and the jointly modeling approach) using 36 species in a 20-ha subtropical forest plot. Our results showed that the percentage of species with significant habitat association increased with life stages, and there were fewer species affected by dispersal limitation in later life stages compared with those in earlier stages. Percentage of variance explained by the environmental filtering and dispersal limitation also increases and decreases with life stages. These results provided a promising alternative explanation on the existing mixed results about the relative importance of the two clustering processes. These findings also highlighted the importance of plant life stages for fully understanding species distributions and species coexistence.

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