Environmental heterogeneity affects the location of modelled communities along the niche-neutrality continuum

  • Bar-Massada A
  • Kent R
  • Carmel Y
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The continuum hypothesis has been proposed as a means to reconcile the contradiction between the niche and neutral theories. While past research has shown that species richness affects the location of communities along the niche-neutrality continuum, there may be extrinsic forces at play as well. We used a spatially explicit continuum model to quantify the effects of environmental heterogeneity, comprising abundance distribution and spatial configuration of resources, on the degree of community neutrality. We found that both components of heterogeneity affect the degree of community neutrality and that species' dispersal characteristics affect the neutrality-heterogeneity relationship. Narrower resource abundance distributions decrease neutrality, while spatial configuration, which is manifested by spatial aggregation of resources, decreases neutrality at higher aggregation levels. In general, the degree of community neutrality was affected by complex interactions among spatial configuration of resources, their abundance distributions and the dispersal characteristics of species in the community. Our results highlight the important yet overlooked role of the environment in dictating the location of communities along the hypothesized niche-neutrality continuum.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Continuum hypothesis
  • Environmental heterogeneity
  • Neutrality
  • Niche

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