Underdispersion and overdispersion of traits in terrestrial snail communities on islands



Understanding and disentangling different processes underlying the assembly and diversity of communities remains a key challenge in ecology. Species can assemble into communities either randomly or due to deterministic processes. Deterministic assembly leads to species being more similar (underdispersed) or more different (overdispersed) in certain traits than would be expected by chance. However, the relative importance of those processes is not well understood for many organisms, including terrestrial invertebrates. Based on knowledge of a broad range of species traits, we tested for the presence of trait underdispersion (indicating dispersal or environmental filtering) and trait overdispersion (indicating niche partitioning) and their relative importance in explaining land snail community composition on lake islands. The analysis of community assembly was performed using a functional diversity index (Rao's quadratic entropy) in combination with a null model approach. Regression analysis with the effect sizes of the assembly tests and environmental variables gave information on the strength of under- and overdispersion along environmental gradients. Additionally, we examined the link between community weighted mean trait values and environmental variables using a CWM-RDA. We found both trait underdispersion and trait overdispersion, but underdispersion (eight traits) was more frequently detected than overdispersion (two traits). Underdispersion was related to four environmental variables (tree cover, habitat diversity, productivity of ground vegetation, and location on an esker ridge). Our results show clear evidence for underdispersion in traits driven by environmental filtering, but no clear evidence for dispersal filtering. We did not find evidence for overdispersion of traits due to diet or body size, but overdispersion in shell shape may indicate niche differentiation between snail species driven by small-scale habitat heterogeneity. The use of species traits enabled us to identify key traits involved in snail community assembly and to detect the simultaneous occurrence of trait underdispersion and overdispersion.