Complex relationships between species niches and environmental heterogeneity affect species co-occurrence patterns in modelled and real communities

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Abstract

Species co-occurrence analysis is commonly used to assess how interspecific interactions dictate community assembly. Non-random co-occurrences, however, may also emerge from niche differences as well as environmental heterogeneity. The relationships between species co-occurrence patterns, environmental heterogeneity and species niches are not fully understood, due to complex interactions among them. To analyse the relationships among these patterns and processes, I developed synthetic communitymodels andanalysed a large dataset of tree species across the conterminousUnited States. Niche overlap and environmental heterogeneity had significant and contrasting effects on species co-occurrence patterns, in both modelled and real communities. Niche breadth, in turn, affected the effect sizes of both variables on species cooccurrence patterns. The effect of niche breadth on the relationship between co-occurrence and niche overlap was markedly consistent between modelled and real communities,while its effect on the relationship between co-occurrence and environmental heterogeneitywasmostly consistent between real and modelled data. The results of this analysis highlight the complex and interactive effects of species niche overlap, niche breadth and environmental heterogeneity on species co-occurrence patterns. Therefore, inferring ecological processes from co-occurrence patternswithout accounting for these fundamental characteristics of species and environments may lead to biased conclusions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20150927
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume282
Issue number1813
DOIs
StatePublished - 5 Aug 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Co-occurrence
  • Environmental heterogeneity
  • Niche breadth
  • Niche overlap
  • Null models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology

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