Non-neutral vegetation dynamics.
The neutral theory of biodiversity constitutes a reference null hypothesis for the interpretation of ecosystem dynamics and produces relatively simple analytical descriptions of basic system properties, which can be easily compared to observations. On the contrary, investigations in non-neutral dynamics have in the past been limited by the complexity arising from heterogeneous demographic behaviours and by the relative paucity of detailed observations of the spatial distribution of species diversity (beta-diversity): These circumstances prevented the development and testing of explicit non-neutral mathematical descriptions linking competitive strategies and observable ecosystem properties. Here we introduce an exact non-neutral model of vegetation dynamics, based on cloning and seed dispersal, which yields closed-form characterizations of beta-diversity. The predictions of the non-neutral model are validated using new high-resolution remote-sensing observations of salt-marsh vegetation in the Venice Lagoon (Italy). Model expressions of beta-diversity show a remarkable agreement with observed distributions within the wide observational range of scales explored (5 x 10(-1) m divided by 10(3) m). We also consider a neutral version of the model and find its predictions to be in agreement with the more limited characterization of beta-diversity typical of the neutral theory (based on the likelihood that two sites be conspecific or heterospecific, irrespective of the species). However, such an agreement proves to be misleading as the recruitment rates by propagules and by seed dispersal assumed by the neutral model do not reflect known species characteristics and correspond to averages of those obtained under the more general non-neutral hypothesis. We conclude that non-neutral beta-diversity characterizations are required to describe ecosystem dynamics in the presence of species-dependent properties and to successfully relate the observed patterns to the underlying processes.
Marani, M; Zillio, T; Belluco, E; Silvestri, S; Maritan, A
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