Summary 1 Vegetation–environment relationships are well understood at the geographical scale, but it is still not clear what role chance and historical contigency play in the assembly of communities from the local species pool. We addressed this question experimentally by comparing the performance of congeneric species introduced into a grassland community. 2 We used the National Vegetation Classification and distribution maps to define the local pool of grassland species suited to our experimental site. From this we selected five pairs of congeneric species. One member of each pair was native to the experimental site (‘present’ species) and one member was represented in the local species pool but absent from the community (‘absent’ species). 3 If community assembly processes are deterministic, then absent species should underperform present congeners. Any other result would imply that chance, dispersal limitation or historical contingency plays a role in community assembly. Our experimental arrangement allowed us to assess the consistency of comparisons across different grazing treatment combinations. 4 Two field experiments were undertaken. The first investigated the effects of dispersal limitation by introducing seed of congeners and monitoring performance. The second investigated the survival of congeners introduced as small plants at the early stages of growth in ‘plugs’. A laboratory germination test and a combined analysis of both field experiments were also undertaken. 5 Some species showed markedly different responses from their congeners in the two field experiments. Overall, the present species did not consistently perform better than their absent congeners. This indicates that the study community bears the strong imprint of dispersal limitation or other historical factors, a finding consistent with results previously obtained for the same community using a trait‐based model. 6 We conclude that the accuracy of predictions about community composition will be limited by the success with which factors such as propagule dispersal and differential effects of seed predation and herbivory can be modelled. We predict the circumstances under which modelling of community assembly is most likely to be successful.
Journal of Ecology – Wiley
Published: Apr 1, 2002
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