Mechanisms of community assembly explaining beta-diversity patterns across biogeographic regions

WashU affiliated authors: Jonathan A. Myers (Dept. of Biology)



We examined tree beta diversity in four biogeographical regions with contrasting environmental conditions, latitude, and diversity. We tested: (a) the influence of the species pool on beta diversity; (b) the relative contribution of niche-based and dispersal-based assembly to beta diversity; and (c) differences in the importance of these two assembly mechanisms in regions with differing productivity and species richness.


Lowland and montane tropical forests in the Madidi region (Bolivia), lowland temperate forests in the Ozarks (USA), and montane temperate forests in the Cantabrian Mountains (Spain).


We surveyed woody plants with a diameter ≥2.5 cm following a standardized protocol in 236 0.1-ha forest plots in four different biogeographical regions. We estimated the species pool at each region and used it to recreate null communities determined entirely by the species pool. Observed patterns of beta diversity smaller or greater than the null-expected patterns of beta diversity implies the presence of local assembly mechanisms beyond the influence of the species pool. We used variation-partitioning analyses to compare the contribution of niche-based and dispersal-based assembly to patterns of observed beta diversity and their deviations from null models among the four regions.


(a) Differences in species pools alone did not explain observed differences in beta diversity among biogeographic regions. (b) In 3/4 regions, the environment explained more of the variation in beta diversity than spatial variables. (c) Spatial variables explained more of the beta diversity in more diverse and more productive regions with more rare species (tropical and lower-elevation regions) compared to less diverse and less productive regions (temperate and higher-elevation regions). (d) Greater alpha or gamma diversity did not result in higher beta diversity or stronger correlations with the environment.


Overall, the observed differences in beta diversity are better explained by differences in community assembly mechanism than by biogeographical processes that shaped the species pool.