Question: Species composition during secondary succession is influenced by a number of factors, such as soil moisture, disturbance timing and surrounding vegetation. How does the importance of these factors change over the course of succession?
Methods: We set up a full-factorial block design using molehills differing in (a) disturbance timing, (b) soil moisture and (c) composition of surrounding vegetation, and recorded the cover of all species present on the molehills over 3 years. M1ultiple regression analyses on the dissimilarity matrices of community composition and of environmental factors were applied for each of five age classes of molehills to estimate the effect of the single factors at different stages of succession.
Results: The timing of disturbance did not significantly affect community composition at any stage of succession. In contrast, the effects of soil moisture and surrounding vegetation changed significantly over time, with moisture being more important at earlier stages of succession and surrounding vegetation at later stages.
Conclusion: The importance of environmental factors for species composition change significantly over the course of secondary succession. Instead of aggregating the effects of environmental factors over time, future studies should consider underlying dynamics of recolonization more comprehensively.