Image_1_Experimental Evidence for the Importance of Light on Understory Grass Communities in a Subtropical Forest.pdf
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Light is one of the most important environmental filters for forest understory grass communities. It is predicted that light can select species with the same light requirements, resulting in a decrease in species compositional dissimilarity among grass communities experiencing the same light intensity, and an increase in community dissimilarity under variable light intensities. However, these predictions have been questioned recently in light of modern coexistence theories, and evidence for them in natural communities is often indistinguishable from patterns created by dispersal limitation and biotic interactions. To help fill this gap, we sampled 48 understory grass communities that had regenerated from the same soil seed bank in Southern China. Plots were established under a light intensity gradient. Changes in species composition and neighborhood densities were monitored over a growing season. Our experimental setup controls for bias from dispersal limitation and is useful for detecting the effects of biotic interactions at different intensities of light. As expected, (1) compositional dissimilarity of grass communities increased between communities with different light intensities. The extent to which communities became more dissimilar was positively correlated with the difference in the light intensity. (2) No significant change in compositional dissimilarity was observed among communities experiencing the same light intensity. (3) Finally, relative neighborhood density significantly decreased in communities with moderate to high shading treatments. Our results clearly show that light can drive compositional divergence among communities under different light densities. However, the light may not lead to convergence among communities experiencing the same low light intensity, because intense competition induced by low light might enlarge species compositional differences, as shown with the neighborhood density analysis. Therefore, our study provides more convincing evidence for the importance of light on understory grass communities in subtropical forests and highlights the need to jointly consider biotic interactions when testing for evidence for environmental filtering.
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