The Environment, Not Space, Dominantly Structures the Landscape Patterns of the Richness and Composition of the Tropical Understory Vegetation

posted on 22.11.2013 by Yue-Hua Hu, Da-Yong Sheng, Yang-Zhou Xiang, Zeng-Jiang Yang, Da-Ping Xu, Ning-Nan Zhang, Lei-Lei Shi

The mechanisms driving the spatial patterns of species richness and composition are essential to the understanding of biodiversity. Numerous studies separately identify the contributions of the environment (niche process) and space (neutral process) to the species richness or composition at different scales, but few studies have investigated the contributions of both types of processes in the two types of data at the landscape scale. In this study, we partitioned the spatial variations in all, exotic and native understory plant species richness and composition constrained by environmental variables and space in 134 plots that were spread across 10 counties in Hainan Island in southern China. The 134 plots included 70 rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) plantation plots, 50 eucalyptus (Eucalyptus urophylla) plantation plots, and 14 secondary forest plots. RDA based variation partitioning was run to assess the contribution of environment and space to species richness and composition. The results showed that the environmental variables alone explained a large proportion of the variations in both the species richness and composition of all, native, and exotic species. The RDA results indicated that overstory composition (forest type here) plays a leading role in determining species richness and composition patterns. The alpha and beta diversities of the secondary forest plots were markedly higher than that of the two plantations. In conclusion, niche differentiation processes are the principal mechanisms that shape the alpha and beta diversities of understory plant species in Hainan Island.