1 Species richness typically increases with the number of individuals sampled, although many ecological processes that influence species richness are also well known to depend on density of individuals. We separated the effects of density on species richness that are due to sampling, from those due to density-dependent ecological processes such as competition or predation, by manipulating the density of an entire community.
2 A seed bank from a community of desert annual plants that occur on semi-stabilized sand dunes in Israel was collected from the field and sown in an experimental garden at a range of densities from 1/16 to eight times the natural density. The species pool observed in the lowest density plots was used as the null community, which was repeatedly sampled to calculate the species richness (and other diversity indices) in higher density plots that would be expected from sampling considerations alone. The significance of deviations of observed diversity from this expected diversity was then evaluated.
3 Both observed and expected number of species increased substantially with the experimental increase in density. However, observed species richness, the Shannon–Wiener diversity index and Simpson's diversity index were often significantly lower than that expected based on sampling considerations. The magnitude of the deviation from expected increased significantly with increasing density for richness and the Shannon–Wiener index. This provides some of the first direct experimental evidence from diverse natural assemblages that increasing competition among all the individuals in a community can lead to competitive exclusion.