Niche versus neutrality in structuring the beta diversity of damselfly assemblages


Adam M. Siepielski, Department of Biology, University of San Diego, San Diego, CA 92110, U.S.A. E-mail:


1. Differences among communities in taxonomic composition – beta diversity – are frequently expected to result from taxon-specific responses to spatial variation in ecological conditions, through niche partitioning. Such process-derived patterns are in sharp contrast to arguments from neutral theory, where taxa are ecologically equivalent and beta diversity results primarily from dispersal limitation.

2. Here, we compared beta diversity among assemblages of damselflies (Odonata: Zygoptera), for which previous experiments have shown that niche differences maintain genera within a community, but patterns of relative abundance for species within each genus are shaped primarily by neutral dynamics.

3. Using null-model and ordination-based methods, we find that both genera and (in contrast to neutral theory) species assemblage composition vary across the landscape in a deterministic fashion, shaped by environmental and spatial factors.

4. While the observed patterns in species composition conflict with theory, we suggest that this a result of weak ecological filters acting to produce spatial variation in assemblages of ecologically similar species undergoing ecological drift within communities. Such patterns are especially likely in systems of relatively weak dispersers like damselflies.