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Effects of geographic distance and climatic dissimilarity on species turnover in alpine meadow communities across a broad spatial extent on the Tibetan Plateau

Abstract

Understanding the underlying mechanisms that generate species turnover or beta diversity among biological communities is a central theme in ecology. Here, we distinguish the effects of geographic distance and climatic dissimilarity on species turnover of vascular plants in alpine meadow communities on the Tibetan Plateau in China. We calculated species turnover between each pair of 17 sites, using the Jaccard’s and Simpson’s indices. We selected six variables to quantify climate at each site, and subjected values of the climatic variables to a principal component analysis. We applied a variance partitioning approach to disentangle the effects of geographic distance and climatic dissimilarity on species turnover in alpine meadow communities. We also examined the effect of elevation variation on species turnover. Geographic distance and climate dissimilarity together explained 49.1 % of the variation in compositional difference between alpine meadow communities; the amount of the variation explained purely by geographic distance and purely by climatic dissimilarity was 6.8 % and 2.8 %, respectively. When geographic distance, climate dissimilarity, and elevation difference were included in an analysis, they together explained 55 % of the variation in compositional difference between alpine meadow communities; the pure effect of each of the three sets of explanatory variables was 4.8, 4.3, and 3.5 %, respectively. The fact that the vast majority of the variation explained by geographic distance and climatic dissimilarity cannot be independently attributed to either factor suggests that the two factors operate together in determining regional patterns of species composition in alpine meadows on the Tibetan Plateau.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments, Yanhong Tang and Huakun Zhou for their assistance with field data collection, and Xianli Wang for compiling climate data. The vegetation survey was supported by the Global Environment Research Coordination System, Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan, for the project “Early detection and prediction of climate warming based on long-term monitoring on the Tibetan Plateau”, and by KAKENHI (Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) 19770020). Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, provided with support to the project.

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Correspondence to Hong Qian.

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Qian, H., Shimono, A. Effects of geographic distance and climatic dissimilarity on species turnover in alpine meadow communities across a broad spatial extent on the Tibetan Plateau. Plant Ecol 213, 1357–1364 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-012-0095-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-012-0095-4

Keywords

  • Alpine meadows
  • Beta diversity
  • Community assembly
  • Distance decay in similarity
  • Environmental gradient