Question: The drivers of spatial patterning among plant species and the implications of those patterns for the structure and function of plant communities are of ongoing interest and debate. Here we explore the spatial patterning shown by individual species in species-rich plant communities. We (1) compare the levels of aggregation in these communities to those observed in other species-rich communities, in particular tropical rain forests, and (2) consider how abiotic conditions might influence the levels of aggregation observed.
Location: We describe the spatial structure of four species-rich Mediterranean-type shrubland communities near Eneabba, Western Australia. The four sites each contain > 10000 plants and up to 113 species, and differ in substrate-type, species richness and composition.
Methods: We analysed the spatial patterning of all species with more than 20 individuals (233 species patterns), and used point process models for aggregated patterns to separate first-order gradient effects from second-order clustering.
Results: Aggregated distributions were most common at all sites, but especially at the site with the highest resource availability and heterogeneity and lowest species richness. A Poisson cluster process best described the majority of aggregated species, suggesting that local interactions drive fine-scale patterns in these communities.
Conclusions: As with many previous studies, we found that most species showed strong local aggregation. The proportion of species showing aggregation was less than has been described in species-rich tropical rainforests but was higher than observed in many temperate plant communities. The highest proportion of aggregated species was seen at the most resource-abundant site; this is in direct contrast to conceptual models that suggest that competition should be weakest, and aggregation most prevalent, in the most resource-limited sites.