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Dispersal and neutral sampling mediate contingent effects of disturbance on plant beta‐diversity: a meta‐analysis

Catano, Christopher P., Dickson, Timothy L., Myers, Jonathan A.
Ecology letters 2017 v.20 no.3 pp. 347-356
community structure, global change, herbaceous plants, homogenization, immigration, meta-analysis, plant communities, species diversity, Europe, North America
A major challenge in ecology, conservation and global‐change biology is to understand why biodiversity responds differently to similar environmental changes. Contingent biodiversity responses may depend on how disturbance and dispersal interact to alter variation in community composition (β‐diversity) and assembly mechanisms. However, quantitative syntheses of these patterns and processes across studies are lacking. Using null‐models and meta‐analyses of 22 factorial experiments in herbaceous plant communities across Europe and North America, we show that disturbance diversifies communities when dispersal is limited, but homogenises communities when combined with increased immigration from the species pool. In contrast to the hypothesis that disturbance and dispersal mediate the strength of niche assembly, both processes altered β‐diversity through neutral‐sampling effects on numbers of individuals and species in communities. Our synthesis suggests that stochastic effects of disturbance and dispersal on community assembly play an important, but underappreciated, role in mediating biotic homogenisation and biodiversity responses to environmental change.