Disturbance alters local–regional richness relationships in Appalachian forests



Whether biological diversity within communities is limited by local interactions or regional species pools remains an important question in ecology. In this paper, we investigate how an experimentally applied tree-harvesting disturbance gradient influenced local–regional richness relationships. Plant species richness was measured at three spatial scales (2 ha = regional; 576 m2 and 1 m2 = local) on three occasions (one year pre-disturbance, one year post-disturbance, and 10 years post-disturbance) across five disturbance treatments (uncut control through clearcut) replicated throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains, USA. We investigated whether species richness in 576-m2 plots and 1-m2 subplots depended on species richness in 2-ha experimental units and whether this relationship changed through time before and after canopy disturbance. We found that, before disturbance, the relationship between local and regional richness was weak or nonexistent. One year after disturbance local richness was a positive function of regional richness, because local sites were colonized from the regional species pool. Ten years after disturbance, the positive relationship persisted, but the slope had decreased by half. These results suggest that disturbance can set the stage for strong influences of regional species pools on local community assembly in temperate forests. However, as time since disturbance increases, local controls on community assembly decouple the relationships between regional and local diversity.