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Ecosphere. 2017 March 17; 8(3):e01716. doi: 10.1002/ecs2.1716.


Environmental filtering—abiotic and biotic constraints on the demographic performance of individual organisms—is a widespread mechanism of selection in communities. A given individual is “filtered out” (i.e., selectively removed) when environmental conditions or disturbances like fires preclude its survival and reproduction. Although interactions between these filters and dispersal from the regional species pool are thought to determine much about species composition locally, there have been relatively few studies of dispersal × filtering interactions in species-rich communities and fewer still where fire is also a primary selective agent. We experimentally manipulated dispersal and filtering by fire (pre-fire fuel loads and post-fire ash) in species-rich groundcover communities of the longleaf pine ecosystem. We tested four predictions: (1) That species richness would increase with biologically realistic dispersal (seed addition); (2) that the immediate effect of increased fuels in burned communities would be to decrease species richness, whereas the longer-term effects of increased fuels would be to open recruitment opportunities in the groundcover, increase species richness, and increase individual performance (growth) of immigrating species; (3) that adding ash would increase species richness; and (4) that increased dispersal would generate larger increases in species richness in plots with increased fuels compared to plots with decreased fuels. We found that dispersal interacted with complex fire-generated filtering during and after fires. Dispersal increased species richness more in burned communities with increased and decreased fuels compared to burned controls. Moreover, individuals of immigrating species generally grew to larger sizes in burned communities with increased fuels compared to burned controls. In contrast to dispersal and fuels, ash had no effect on species richness directly or in combination with other treatments. We conclude that filtering occurs both during fires and in the post-fire environment and that these influences interact with dispersal such that the consequences are only fully revealed when all are considered in combination. Our experiment highlights the importance of considering the dynamic interplay of dispersal and selection in the assembly of species-rich communities.


© 2017 Harms et al.This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published in Ecosphere. 2017 March 17; 8(3):e01716. doi: 10.1002/ecs2.1716.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

ecs21716-sup-0001-AppendixS1.docx (133 kB)
Supplement 1: Appendix