Identifying the drivers of community assembly has long been a central goal in ecology, and the development of functional diversity indices has provided a new way of detecting the influence of environmental gradients on biotic communities. For an old-growth Appalachian forest, we used path analysis to understand how patterns of tree functional diversity relate to topography and soil gradients and to determine whether topographic effects are mediated through soil chemistry. All of our path models supported the idea of environmental filtering: stressful areas (high elevation, low soil moisture, low soil nutrients) were occupied by communities of low functional diversity, which suggests a selective effect for species with traits adapted to such harsh conditions. The effects of topography (slope, aspect, elevation) on functional diversity were often indirect and moderated through soil moisture and fertility. Soil moisture was a key component of our models and was featured consistently in each one, having either strong direct effects on functional diversity or indirect effects via soil fertility. Our results provide a comprehensive view of the interplay among functional trait assemblages, topography, and edaphic conditions and contribute to the baseline understanding of the role of environmental filtering in temperate forest community assembly.
Copyright © 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Place of Publication
path analysis, functional richness, functional dispersion, community-weighted mean, stress-dominance hypothesis, old-growth
Chapman, Julia I. and McEwan, Ryan W., "The Role of Environmental Filtering in Structuring Appalachian Tree Communities: Topographic Influences on Functional Diversity Are Mediated through Soil Characteristics" (2018). Biology Faculty Publications. 219.