Convergence patterns and multiple species interactions in a designed plant mixture of five species

Suter, Matthias ; Ramseier, Dieter ; Guesewell, Sabine ; Connolly, John

In: Oecologia, 2007, vol. 151, no. 3, p. 499-511

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    It is known that convergence and divergence can occur in complex plant communities, but the relative importance of biotic and abiotic factors driving these processes is less clear. We addressed this issue in an experiment using a range of mixed stands of five species that are common in Swiss fens (Carex elata, C. flava, Lycopus europaeus, Lysimachia vulgaris and Mentha aquatica) and two levels of water and nutrients. One hundred and seventy-six experimental mixtures were maintained in large pots (75l) for two consecutive growing seasons in an experimental garden. The stands varied systematically in the initial relative abundance of each of the five species and in overall initial stand abundance. The changes in biomass over 2years were modelled as linear functions of treatments and the initial biomass of each species. The dynamics of the system were mainly driven by differences in the identity of species and by a negative feedback mechanism but also by different abiotic conditions. In all mixtures, C. elata became more dominant over time, which caused an overall convergence of community composition. In addition, the rate of change of each species' biomass was negatively related to its own initial abundance. Thus, a negative feedback further contributed to the convergence of communities. Species responded differently to water level and nutrient supply, causing community dynamics to differ among treatments. However, the different abiotic conditions only slightly modified the overall convergence pattern. Competitive interactions between more than two species were weaker than the negative feedback but still significantly influenced the species' final relative abundance. The negative feedback suggests that there is niche partitioning between the species, which permits their coexistence