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Disentangling niche theory and beta diversity change

Godsoe, William
Bellingham, P. J.
Moltchanova, E.
Preprint Server Paper
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::310302 Community ecology (excl. invasive species ecology) , ANZSRC::310307 Population ecology , ANZSRC::410401 Conservation and biodiversity
Beta diversity describes the differences in species composition among communities. Changes in beta diversity over time are thought to be due to selection based on species’ niche characteristics. For example, theory predicts that selection that favours habitat specialists will increase beta diversity. In practice, ecologists struggle to predict how beta diversity changes. To remedy this problem, we propose a novel solution that formally measures selection’s effects on beta diversity. Using the Price equation, we show how change in beta diversity over time can be partitioned into fundamental mechanisms including selection among species, variable selection among communities, drift, and immigration. A key finding of our approach is that a species’ short-term impact on beta diversity cannot be predicted using information on its long-term environmental requirements (i.e. its niche). We illustrate how our approach can be used to partition causes of diversity change in a montane tropical forest before and after an intense hurricane. Previous work in this system highlighted the resistance of habitat specialists and the recruitment of light-demanding species but was unable to quantify the importance of these effects on beta diversity. Using our approach, we show that changes in beta diversity were consistent with ecological drift. We use these results to highlight the opportunities presented by a synthesis of beta diversity and formal models of selection.