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Beyond resource limitation: an expanded test of the niche dimension hypothesis for multiple types of niche axes

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The niche dimension hypothesis predicts that more species can coexist given a greater number of niche axes along which they partition the environment. Although this hypothesis has been broadly supported by nutrient enrichment experiments, its applicability to other ecological factors, such as natural enemies and abiotic stresses, has not been vigorously tested. Here, we examined the generality of the niche dimension hypothesis by experimentally manipulating both resource and non-resource niche dimensions—nitrogen limitation, pathogens and low-temperature stress—in a Tibetan alpine meadow. We found that decreases in niche dimensions led to a significant reduction in species richness, consistent with results from nutrient addition studies. However, different niche variables uniquely affected the plant communities. While nitrogen had largest effects on both community biomass and species richness, pathogens and low-temperature stress, in combination with nitrogen, had synergistic effects on them. Our results provide direct evidence demonstrating that both resource and non-resource niche dimensions can influence species coexistence. These findings suggest that other non-resource factors need to be taken into consideration to better predict the community assembly and control over biodiversity, particularly under the future multifaceted global change scenarios.

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We confirm that if our manuscript is accepted, the data supporting the results will be archived in an appropriate public repository.


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We thank Juanjuan Zhang, Fuwei Wang, Yangguang Ji, Yi Yang, Fei Yang, and Ying Wang for help in experimental maintenance and sampling in field, and Xiaoqing Shao, Huixin Zhang, Zirong Ren and Jiatong Wang for help in lab analyses. We also thank Dr. Zhengwei Ren for helpful suggestions. We are grateful to the Research Station of Alpine Meadow and Wetland Ecosystem Tibetan Plateau of Lanzhou University for providing support in the field. This study was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (31971435) and National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFC0503902).

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Authors and Affiliations



H.G., S.H. and X.Y. designed the research. X.Y., K.H., X.L., X.X. and F.S. conducted the field experiment. X.Y. performed the lab analyses. X.Y., H.G. and J.D. analyzed the data. X.Y. and H.G. wrote the first draft of the manuscript. J.D., L.J., S.L. and S.H. contributed substantially to revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hui Guo.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Communicated by Kendi Davies.

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Yan, X., Diez, J., Huang, K. et al. Beyond resource limitation: an expanded test of the niche dimension hypothesis for multiple types of niche axes. Oecologia 193, 689–699 (2020).

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