1. We studied vascular plant and soil-dwelling testate amoeba communities in deglaciated sites across a range of substrate ages in Kenai Fjords, Alaska, USA to test four hypotheses. (i) Patterns of community assembly are similar for vascular plants and testate amoebae. (ii) Vascular plant and testate amoeba communities are more strongly correlated to abiotic variables than to each other, since these communities are not directly linked trophically. (iii) Plant community structure becomes less associated with abiotic condition in succession relative to testate amoebae, as species replacement is believed to be more common for plants than testate amoebae. (iv) Above- and below-ground communities become more strongly linked over the succession, due a shift from predominantly allogenic to autogenic forces.
2. We assessed relationships among biotic communities and abiotic site variables across the chronosequence using multiple factor analysis, redundancy analysis (RDA) and a moving-window analysis.
3. The diversity patterns and the communities’ response to site and soil variables differed between groups. The composition of both communities was significantly explained by bedrock type and moisture regime. The vascular plant community, however, was more influenced by distance from the glacier.
4. Testate amoeba and vascular plant community patterns were significantly linked to each other and to location and physical conditions. The moving-window RDA indicates the variation explained by the physical and chemical environment tended to slightly decrease through the chronosequence for testate amoebae, while a bell-shape response was evidenced for vascular plants. The variation of the microbial community explained by the plant community was very low in the early stages of the succession and became higher than the variation explained by the environmental variables later in the chronosequence.
5. Synthesis. These results suggest that vascular plants and testate amoebae are as linked or more in ecosystem development than either community is to changes in site condition. Furthermore, the strength of interactions varies along the succession. Thus, ecological links may be more important than macro-scale abiotic site condition is to community development, even between communities without direct trophic interactions.