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Hydrological connectivity structures concordant plant and animal assemblages according to niche rather than dispersal processes

Authors


Danielle M. Warfe, Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management, The University of Western Australia, Albany, Western Australia, 6330, Australia.
E-mail: danielle.warfe@uwa.edu.au

Summary

1. Understanding the processes that structure community assembly across landscapes is fundamental to ecology and for predicting and managing the consequences of anthropogenically induced changes to ecosystems.

2. We assessed the community similarity of fish, macroinvertebrate and vegetation communities against geographic distances ranging from 4 to 480 km (i.e. distance–decay relationships) to determine the balance between local environmental factors and regional dispersal processes, and thus whether species-sorting (niche processes) or dispersal limitation (neutral processes) was more important in structuring these assemblages in Australia’s wet-dry tropics. We investigated whether the balance between niche and dispersal processes depended on the degree of hydrological connectivity, predicting that dispersal processes would be more important at connected sites, and also whether there was spatial concordance among these three assemblage types.

3. There was significant but weak spatial concordance among the study communities, suggesting limited potential for surrogacy among them. Distance–decay in community similarity was not observed for any study assemblage at perennial sites, suggesting dispersal was not limiting and assemblages were structured more strongly by local niche processes at these connected sites. At intermittent sites, weak distance–decay relationships for each assemblage type were confounded by significant relationships with environmental dissimilarity, suggesting that dispersal limitation contributed, albeit weakly, to niche processes in structuring our three study assemblages at disconnected sites.

4. Two environmental factors, flow regime and channel width, explained significant proportions of variation in all three assemblages, potentially contributing to the observed spatial concordance between them and representing local environmental gradients along which these communities re-assemble after the wet season, according to niche rather than dispersal processes.

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