Functional traits and environmental filtering drive community assembly in a species-rich tropical system

Authors

  • Edwin Lebrija-Trejos,

    1. Wageningen University, Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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    • Present address: Faculty of Life Sciences, Department of Plant Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978 Israel. E-mail: elebrija@post.tau.ac.il

  • Eduardo A. Pérez-García,

    1. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Facultad de Ciencias, Departamento de Ecología y Recursos Naturales, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico 04510, DF, Mexico
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  • Jorge A. Meave,

    1. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Facultad de Ciencias, Departamento de Ecología y Recursos Naturales, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico 04510, DF, Mexico
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  • Frans Bongers,

    1. Wageningen University, Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • Lourens Poorter

    1. Wageningen University, Forest Ecology and Forest Management Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
    2. Wageningen University, Resource Ecology Group, Centre for Ecosystem Studies, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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  • Corresponding Editor: L. A. Donovan.

Abstract

Mechanistic models of community assembly state that biotic and abiotic filters constrain species establishment through selection on their functional traits. Predicting this assembly process is hampered because few studies directly incorporate environmental measurements and scale up from species to community level and because the functional traits' significance is environment dependent. We analyzed community assembly by measuring structure, environmental conditions, and species traits of secondary forests in a species-rich tropical system. We found, as hypothesized, that community structure shaped the local environment and that strong relationships existed between this environment and the traits of the most successful species of the regeneration communities. Path and multivariate analyses showed that temperature and leaf traits that regulate it were the most important factors of community differentiation. Comparisons between the trait composition of the forest's regeneration, juvenile, and adult communities showed a consistent community assembly pattern. These results allowed us to identify the major functional traits and environmental factors involved in the assembly of dry-forest communities and demonstrate that environmental filtering is a predictable and fundamental process of community assembly, even in a complex system such as a tropical forest.

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