Coexistence of Banksia species in southwestern Australia: the role of regional and local processes



Abstract. 60 of the 75 Banksia species are confined to southwestern Australia where five or six species often coexist. We explored the role of regional species richness, niche differentiation, and habitat specialization in structuring banksia assemblages. The diversity of growth forms and categories of seed production and response to fire were assessed in actual assemblages at 40 sites throughout southwestern Australia. Diversity indices at each site were compared with those from null communities assembled on the basis of the abundance and sociability of taxa in regional species pools. The relationship between local and regional species richness suggests that processes at the scale of 100-m2 quadrats limit local richness and therefore coexistence. However, there was no consistent evidence that taxa are differentiated by growth form or regeneration strategy. No particular biological profile makes a banksia adept at coexisting with a wide range of other taxa. Habitat specialization is an important factor contributing to lower local richness than would be predicted from niche differentiation of taxa in regional pools. There is recent empirical evidence of several mechanisms whereby the number of coexisting banksias is increased beyond the limits suggested by simple niche theories. Variability in the fire regime also provides a mechanism for maintaining local species richness because different fires favour recruitment of different taxa.