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Arts & Sciences

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PLoS One. 2015 Mar 24;10(3):e0121458.


Despite long-standing interest in elevational-diversity gradients, little is known about the processes that cause changes in the compositional variation of communities (β-diversity) across elevations. Recent studies have suggested that β-diversity gradients are driven by variation in species pools, rather than by variation in the strength of local community assembly mechanisms such as dispersal limitation, environmental filtering, or local biotic interactions. However, tests of this hypothesis have been limited to very small spatial scales that limit inferences about how the relative importance of assembly mechanisms may change across spatial scales. Here, we test the hypothesis that scale-dependent community assembly mechanisms shape biogeographic β-diversity gradients using one of the most well-characterized elevational gradients of tropical plant diversity. Using an extensive dataset on woody plant distributions along a 4,000-m elevational gradient in the Bolivian Andes, we compared observed patterns of β-diversity to null-model expectations. β-deviations (standardized differences from null values) were used to measure the relative effects of local community assembly mechanisms after removing sampling effects caused by variation in species pools. To test for scale-dependency, we compared elevational gradients at two contrasting spatial scales that differed in the size of local assemblages and regions by at least an order of magnitude. Elevational gradients in β-diversity persisted after accounting for regional variation in species pools. Moreover, the elevational gradient in β-deviations changed with spatial scale. At small scales, local assembly mechanisms were detectable, but variation in species pools accounted for most of the elevational gradient in β-diversity. At large spatial scales, in contrast, local assembly mechanisms were a dominant force driving changes in β-diversity. In contrast to the hypothesis that variation in species pools alone drives β-diversity gradients, we show that local community assembly mechanisms contribute strongly to systematic changes in β-diversity across elevations. We conclude that scale-dependent variation in community assembly mechanisms underlies these iconic gradients in global biodiversity.


Available at doi: © 2015 Tello et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited