|Reineking, B; Veste, M; Wissel, C; Huth, A: Environmental variability and allocation trade-offs maintain species diversity in a process-based model of succulent plant communities, Ecological Modelling, 199, 486-504 (2006)|
Ecological theory suggests that environmental variability can promote coexistence, provided that species occupy differential niches. In this study, we focus on two questions: (1) Do allocation trade-offs provide a sufficient basis for niche differentiation in succulent plant communities? (2) What is the relative importance of different forms of environmental variability on species diversity and community composition? We approach these questions with a generic, individual-based simulation model. In our model, plants compete for water in a spatially explicit environment. Species differ in their size at maturity and in the allocation of carbon to roots, leaves and storage tissue. The model was fully specified with independent literature data. Model output was compared to characteristics of. a species-rich community in the semi-and Richtersveld (South Africa). The model reproduced the coexistence of plants with different sizes at maturity, the dominance of succulent shrubs, and the level of vegetation cover. We analyzed the effects of three forms of environmental variability: (a) temporal fluctuations in precipitation (rain and fog), (b) spatial heterogeneity of water supply due to run-on and run-off processes and (c)'rock pockets' that limit root competition in space. The three types of variability had differential effects on diversity: diversity exhibited a strong hump-shaped response to temporal variation. Spatial variability increased diversity, with the strongest increase occurring at intermediate levels of temporal variability. Finally, rock pockets had the weakest effect, but contributed to diversity by providing refuges for small species, particularly at low temporal variability. The model thus shows that spatio-temporal variation of resource supply can maintain diversity over long time scales even in small systems, as is the case in the Richtersveld succulent communities. Trade-offs in allocation provide the basis for necessary niche differentiation. By describing resource competition between individual plants, our model provides a mechanistic basis for the link from species traits to community composition at given environmental conditions. It thereby contributes to an understanding of the forces shaping plant communities. Such an understanding is critical to reduce the threats environmental change poses to biodiversity and ecosystem services. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.