Partitioning beta diversity in a subtropical broad-leaved forest of China

Ecology. 2009 Mar;90(3):663-74. doi: 10.1890/07-1880.1.


The classical environmental control model assumes that species distribution is determined by the spatial variation of underlying habitat conditions. This niche-based model has recently been challenged by the neutral theory of biodiversity which assumes that ecological drift is a key process regulating species coexistence. Understanding the mechanisms that maintain biodiversity in communities critically depends on our ability to decompose the variation of diversity into the contributions of different processes affecting it. Here we investigated the effects of pure habitat, pure spatial, and spatially structured habitat processes on the distributions of species richness and species composition in a recently established 24-ha stem-mapping plot in the subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest of Gutianshan National Nature Reserve in East China. We used the new spatial analysis method of principal coordinates of neighbor matrices (PCNM) to disentangle the contributions of these processes. The results showed that (1) habitat and space jointly explained approximately 53% of the variation in richness and approximately 65% of the variation in species composition, depending on the scale (sampling unit size); (2) tree diversity (richness and composition) in the Gutianshan forest was dominantly controlled by spatially structured habitat (24%) and habitat-independent spatial component (29%); the spatially independent habitat contributed a negligible effect (6%); (3) distributions of richness and species composition were strongly affected by altitude and terrain convexity, while the effects of slope and aspect were weak; (4) the spatial distribution of diversity in the forest was dominated by broad-scaled spatial variation; (5) environmental control on the one hand and unexplained spatial variation on the other (unmeasured environmental variables and neutral processes) corresponded to spatial structures with different scales in the Gutianshan forest plot; and (6) five habitat types were recognized; a few species were statistically significant indicators of three of these habitats, whereas two habitats had no significant indicator species. The results suggest that the diversity of the forest is equally governed by environmental control (30%) and neutral processes (29%). In the fine-scale analysis (10 x 10 m cells), neutral processes dominated (43%) over environmental control (20%).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • China
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Plant Leaves / growth & development
  • Species Specificity
  • Sunlight
  • Time Factors
  • Trees / classification*
  • Trees / growth & development*
  • Tropical Climate