Anthropogenic disturbances strengthened tree community-environment relationships at the temperate-boreal interface
Knowledge of how environmental gradients generate changes in community composition across forest landscapes (β-diversity) represents a critical issue in the era of global change, which exerts especially powerful impacts by shifting disturbance regimes.
We analyzed the response of tree communities to increased disturbance rates that were linked to European settlement at the temperate-boreal interface of eastern Canada. We tested whether disturbance has led to spatial homogenization or heterogenization, and to decoupling or strengthening of community-environment relationships.
We used a reconstruction of pre-industrial tree communities based on historical land survey records (1854–1935), together with modern data, to assess changes in tree β-diversity patterns. Then, β-diversity was partitioned into fractions explained by spatial (dbMEM) and environmental variables (latitude, elevation, slope, drainage and surface deposits) in order to assess changes in spatial structures and community-environment relationships.
In pre-industrial times, environmental variables explained only a small proportion of β-diversity since dominant taxa were present across the range of environmental gradients, whereas habitat specialists were very rare. Between pre-industrial and modern times, our analysis highlights an increase in β-diversity and the proportion of β-diversity that was explained by environmental variables. Increased disturbance rates have favored early-successional habitat specialist taxa and reduced the habitat breadth of pre-industrial generalists, thereby increasing the strength of community-environment relationships.
Our results support that disturbance can alter the strength of community-environment relationships and also suggest that functional traits of species within the regional pool could predict whether or not disturbance alters such relationships.
KeywordsCommunity assembly Environmental niche Environmental filtering Land-use changes Meta-community
We thank Sébastien Dupuis for his help in constructing the geo-referenced database from the survey records. We also thank Iván Jiménez for having very kindly shared some of his R codes, Lili Perreault and William F.J. Parsons for carefully editing the manuscript. We acknowledge Mark Vellend, the associate editor and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback on early versions of the manuscript. This project was financially supported by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Fonds de Recherche du Québec Nature et Technologies (FRQNT), the forest product company TEMBEC (Témiscaming, QC), the Conference Régionale des Élus de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue (CREAT) and the Ministère des Forêts, Faune et Parcs du Québec (MFFP).
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