Decay of similarity across tropical forest communities: integrating spatial distance with soil nutrients

Miquel Ferrín, Jordi Sardans, Erik Verbruggen, Irene Ramírez‐Rojas, Leandro Van Langenhove, Lore T. Verryckt, Jerome Murienne, Amaia Iribar, Lucie Zinger, Oriol Grau, Jerome Orivel, Clément Stahl, Elodie A. Courtois, Dolores Asensio, Albert Gargallo‐Garriga, Joan Llusià, Olga Margalef, Romà Ogaya, Andreas Richter, Ivan A. JanssensJosep Peñuelas, Guillermo Peguero Gutierrez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the mechanisms that drive the change of biotic assemblages over space and time is the main quest of community ecology. Assessing the relative importance of dispersal and environmental species selection in a range of organismic sizes and motilities has been a fruitful strategy. A consensus for whether spatial and environmental distances operate similarly across spatial scales and taxa, however, has yet to emerge. We used censuses of four major groups of organisms (soil bacteria, fungi, ground insects, and trees) at two observation scales (1-m 2 sampling point vs. 2,500-m 2 plots) in a topographically standardized sampling design replicated in two tropical rainforests with contrasting relationships between spatial distance and nutrient availability. We modeled the decay of assemblage similarity for each taxon set and site to assess the relative contributions of spatial distance and nutrient availability distance. Then, we evaluated the potentially structuring effect of tree composition over all other taxa. The similarity of nutrient content in the litter and topsoil had a stronger and more consistent selective effect than did dispersal limitation, particularly for bacteria, fungi, and trees at the plot level. Ground insects, the only group assessed with the capacity of active dispersal, had the highest species turnover and the flattest nonsignificant distance−decay relationship, suggesting that neither dispersal limitation nor nutrient availability were fundamental drivers of their community assembly at this scale of analysis. Only the fungal communities at one of our study sites were clearly coordinated with tree composition. The spatial distance at the smallest scale was more important than nutrient selection for the bacteria, fungi, and insects. The lower initial similarity and the moderate variation in composition identified by these distance-decay models, however, suggested that the effects of stochastic sampling were important at this smaller spatial scale. Our results highlight the importance of nutrients as one of the main environmental drivers of rainforest communities irrespective of organismic or propagule size and how the overriding effect of the analytical scale influences the interpretation, leading to the perception of greater importance of dispersal limitation and ecological drift over selection associated with environmental niches at decreasing observation scales.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2021


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