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Assessing the importance of seed immigration on coexistence of plant functional types in a species-rich ecosystem

Esther, A., Groenewald, J., Enright, N.J., Miller, B.P., Lamont, B.B., Perry, G.L.W., Schurr, F.M. and Jeltsch, F. (2008) Assessing the importance of seed immigration on coexistence of plant functional types in a species-rich ecosystem. Ecological Modelling, 213 (3-4). pp. 402-416.

Link to Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2008.01.014
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Abstract

Modelling and empirical studies have shown that input from the regional seed pool is essential to maintain local species diversity. However, most of these studies have concentrated on simplified, if not neutral, model systems, and focus on a limited subset of species or on aggregated measures of diversity only (e.g., species richness or Shannon diversity). Thus they ignore more complex species interactions and important differences between species. To gain a better understanding of how seed immigration affects community structure at the local scale in real communities we conducted computer simulation experiments based on plant functional types (PFTs) for a species-rich, fire-prone Mediterranean-type shrubland in Western Australia. We developed a spatially explicit simulation model to explore the community dynamics of 38 PFTs, defined by seven traits - regeneration mode, seed production, seed size, maximum crown diameter, drought tolerance, dispersal mode and seed bank type - representing 78 woody species. Model parameterisation is based on published and unpublished data on the population dynamics of shrub species collected over 18 years. Simulation experiments are based on two contrasting seed immigration scenarios: (1) the 'equal seed input number' scenario, where the number of immigrant seeds is the same for all PFTs, and (2) the 'equal seed input mass' scenario, where the cumulative mass of migrating seeds is the same for all PFTs. Both scenarios were systematically tested and compared for different overall seed input values. Without immigration the local community drifts towards a state with only 13 coexisting PFTs. With increasing immigration rates in terms of overall mass of seeds the simulated number of coexisting PFTs and Shannon diversity quickly approaches values observed in the field. The equal seed mass scenario resulted in a more diverse community than did the seed number scenario. The model successfully approximates the frequency distributions (relative densities) of all individual plant traits except seed size for scenarios associated with equal seed input mass and high immigration rate. However, no scenario satisfactorily approximated the frequency distribution for all traits in combination. Our results show that regional seed input can explain the more aggregated measures of local community structure, and some, but not all, aspects of community composition. This points to the possible importance of other (untested) processes and traits (e.g., dispersal vectors) operating at the local scale. Our modelling framework can readily allow new factors to be systematically investigated, which is a major advantage compared to previous simulation studies, as it allows us to find structurally realistic models, which can address questions pertinent to ecological theory and to conservation management.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2008 Elsevier B.V.
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/3843
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