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Keywords:

  • Colonization;
  • grassland;
  • productivity gradient;
  • propagule availability;
  • species pools;
  • species richness;
  • standing crop

An important goal in ecology is to discern under what habitat conditions community structure is primarily regulated by local ecological interactions and under what conditions community structure is more regulated by the pool of available colonists. I conducted a seed addition experiment in successional grassland to evaluate the relative significance of neighbourhood biotic interactions and propagule availability in regulating plant colonization and species richness along a natural gradient of grassland productivity. In undisturbed field plots, seed additions of 34 species led to an increase in species richness in locations of low productivity, an effect that declined in magnitude as productivity increased. In disturbed plots, seed additions led to a relatively constant increase in species richness at all levels of productivity. The results support the hypothesis that the role of propagule availability in regulating colonization dynamics and species richness declines in significance relative to local-scale competitive interactions as habitat productivity increases.