Relative importance of habitat filtering and limiting similarity on species assemblages of alpine and subalpine plant communities

Abstract

This study examined how habitat filtering and limiting similarity affect species assemblages of alpine and subalpine plant communities along a slope gradient on Mt. Norikura in central Japan. Plant traits (plant height, individual leaf area, specific leaf area (SLA), leaf linearity, leaf nitrogen and chlorophyll concentrations) and abiotic environmental factors (elevation, slope inclination, ground surface texture, soil water, soil pH, soil nutrient concentrations of NH4-N and NO3-N) were examined. The metrics of variance, range, kurtosis and the standard deviation of neighbor distance divided by the range of traits present (SDNDr) were calculated for each plant trait to measure trait distribution patterns. Limiting similarity was detected only for chlorophyll concentration. By contrast, habitat filtering was detected for individual leaf area, SLA, leaf linearity, chlorophyll concentration. Abiotic environmental factors were summarized by the principal component analysis (PCA). The first PCA axis positively correlated with elevation and soil pH, and negatively correlated with sand cover, soil water, NH4-N and NO3-N concentrations. High values of the first PCA axis represent the wind-exposed upper slope with lower soil moisture and nutrient availabilities. Plant traits changed along the first PCA axis. Leaf area, SLA and chlorophyll concentration decreased, and leaf linearity increased with the first PCA axis. This study showed that the species assemblage of alpine and subalpine plants was determined mainly by habitat filtering, indicating that abiotic environmental factors are more important for species assemblage than interspecific competition. Therefore, only species adapting to abiotic environments can distribute to these environments.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the Norikura Observatory, Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, The University of Tokyo, for logistical support of field research, to Prof. F. Kumon and Ms. Y. Takizawa for support of nitrogen analysis, and to Dr. M. Katabuchi for advice on statistical analysis. This study was partially supported by grants from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan.

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Correspondence to Koichi Takahashi.

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Takahashi, K., Tanaka, S. Relative importance of habitat filtering and limiting similarity on species assemblages of alpine and subalpine plant communities. J Plant Res 129, 1041–1049 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10265-016-0852-x

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Keywords

  • Alpine plants
  • Community structure
  • Environmental conditions
  • Functional traits
  • Niche
  • Species assemblage