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Habitat heterogeneity and niche structure of trees in two tropical rain forests


Dispersal-assembly theories of species coexistence posit that environmental factors play no role in explaining community diversity and structure. Dispersal-assembly theories shed light on some aspects of community structure such as species-area and species-abundance relationships. However, species’ environmental associations also affect these measures of community structure. Measurements of species’ niche breadth and overlap address this influence. Using a new continuous measure of niche and a dispersal-assembly null model that maintains species’ niche breadth and aggregation, we tested two hypotheses assessing the effects of habitat heterogeneity on the ability of dispersal-assembly theories to explain community niche structure. We found that in both homogenous and heterogeneous environments dispersal-assembly theories cannot fully explain observed niche structure. The performance of the dispersal-assembly null models was particularly poor in heterogeneous environments. These results indicate that non-dispersal based mechanisms are in part responsible for observed community structure and measures of community structure which include species’ environmental associations should be used to test theories of species diversity.

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M.D.P. was supported by an NSF Bioinformatics Post-Doctoral Fellowship, DBI-0204070 and 1-year post-doctoral research fellowship provided by the Center for International Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The research was supported by NSF grant DEB-0075334. We would like to thank Peter Ashton who provided comments on early drafts of the paper.

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Correspondence to Stuart J. Davies.

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Potts, M.D., Davies, S.J., Bossert, W.H. et al. Habitat heterogeneity and niche structure of trees in two tropical rain forests. Oecologia 139, 446–453 (2004).

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  • Niche-assembly
  • Dispersal-assembly
  • Partitioning
  • Null model
  • Species coexistence