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Oecologia

, Volume 155, Issue 3, pp 593–604 | Cite as

Explaining variation in tropical plant community composition: influence of environmental and spatial data quality

  • Mirkka M. JonesEmail author
  • Hanna Tuomisto
  • Daniel Borcard
  • Pierre Legendre
  • David B. Clark
  • Paulo C. Olivas
Community Ecology - Original Paper

Abstract

The degree to which variation in plant community composition (beta-diversity) is predictable from environmental variation, relative to other spatial processes, is of considerable current interest. We addressed this question in Costa Rican rain forest pteridophytes (1,045 plots, 127 species). We also tested the effect of data quality on the results, which has largely been overlooked in earlier studies. To do so, we compared two alternative spatial models [polynomial vs. principal coordinates of neighbour matrices (PCNM)] and ten alternative environmental models (all available environmental variables vs. four subsets, and including their polynomials vs. not). Of the environmental data types, soil chemistry contributed most to explaining pteridophyte community variation, followed in decreasing order of contribution by topography, soil type and forest structure. Environmentally explained variation increased moderately when polynomials of the environmental variables were included. Spatially explained variation increased substantially when the multi-scale PCNM spatial model was used instead of the traditional, broad-scale polynomial spatial model. The best model combination (PCNM spatial model and full environmental model including polynomials) explained 32% of pteridophyte community variation, after correcting for the number of sampling sites and explanatory variables. Overall evidence for environmental control of beta-diversity was strong, and the main floristic gradients detected were correlated with environmental variation at all scales encompassed by the study (c. 100–2,000 m). Depending on model choice, however, total explained variation differed more than fourfold, and the apparent relative importance of space and environment could be reversed. Therefore, we advocate a broader recognition of the impacts that data quality has on analysis results. A general understanding of the relative contributions of spatial and environmental processes to species distributions and beta-diversity requires that methodological artefacts are separated from real ecological differences.

Keywords

Environmental control Model specification Spatial structure Species composition Variation partitioning 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank Rigoberto Gonzalez for assisting during the fern inventory, and Jens Mackensen and Edzo Veldkamp for soil data collection. Diana and Milton Lieberman kindly allowed us access to their study areas. La Selva Biological Station of the Organization for Tropical Studies provided logistic support. Jérôme Chave, Michael Kessler and three anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on the manuscript. The work was funded by grants from the Academy of Finland (to H. Tuomisto), the Andrew W. Mellon foundation (to D. B. and D. A. Clark), and NSERC (grant number OGP0007738 to P. Legendre). Inventories and specimen collection complied with Costa Rican law. Research permits were kindly granted by SINAC-MINAE.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mirkka M. Jones
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hanna Tuomisto
    • 1
  • Daniel Borcard
    • 2
  • Pierre Legendre
    • 2
  • David B. Clark
    • 3
  • Paulo C. Olivas
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland
  2. 2.Département des sciences biologiquesUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Missouri-St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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