Latitudinal gradients in species richness in assemblages of sessile animals in rocky intertidal zone: mechanisms determining scale-dependent variability
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- 1Although latitudinal gradients in species richness within a region are observed in a range of taxa and habitats, little is known about variability in its scale dependence or causal processes. The scale-dependent variability of latitudinal gradients in species richness can be affected by latitudinal differences in (i) the regional relative abundance distribution, and (ii) the degree of aggregated distribution (i.e., intraspecific aggregation and interspecific segregation; henceforth, the degree of aggregation) reflecting differences in ecological processes among regions, which are not mutually exclusive.
- 2In rocky intertidal sessile animal assemblages along Japan's Pacific coast (between 31°N and 43°N), scale-dependent variability of the latitudinal gradient in species richness and its causal mechanisms were examined by explicitly incorporating three hierarchical spatial scales into the monitoring design: plots (50 × 100 cm), shores (78 to 235 m), and regions (16·7 to 42·5 km).
- 3To evaluate latitudinal differences in the degree of aggregation, the degree of intraspecific aggregation at each spatial scale in each region was examined using the standardized Morishita index. Furthermore, the observed species richness was compared with the species richness expected by random sampling from the regional species pool using randomization tests.
- 4Latitudinal gradients in species richness were observed at all spatial scales, but the gradients became steadily more moderate with decreasing spatial scale. The slope of the relative abundance distribution decreased with decreasing latitude.
- 5Tests of an index of intraspecific aggregation and randomization tests indicated that although species richness at smaller scales differed significantly from species richness expected based on a random distribution, the degree of aggregation did not vary with latitude. Although some ecological processes (possibly species sorting) may have played a role in determining species richness at small spatial scales, the importance of these processes did not vary with latitude.
- 6Thus, scale-dependent variability in the latitudinal gradient of species richness appears to be explained mainly by latitudinal differences in the regional relative abundance distribution by imposing statistical constraint caused by decreasing grain size.