Scientific Reports 5

Gap formation following climatic events in spatially structured plant communities

Jinbao Liao, Hans J. De Boeck, Zhenqing Li, Ivan Nijs.
Gaps play a crucial role in maintaining species diversity, yet how community structure and composition influence gap formation is still poorly understood. We apply a spatially structured community model to predict how species diversity and intraspecific aggregation shape gap patterns emerging after climatic events, based on species-specific mortality responses. In multispecies communities, average gap size and gap-size diversity increased rapidly with increasing mean mortality once a mortality threshold was exceeded, greatly promoting gap recolonization opportunity. This result was observed at all levels of species richness. Increasing interspecific difference likewise enhanced these metrics, which may promote not only diversity maintenance but also community invasibility, since more diverse niches for both local and exotic species are provided. The richness effects on gap size and gap-size diversity were positive, but only expressed when species were sufficiently different. Surprisingly, while intraspecific clumping strongly promoted gap-size diversity, it hardly influenced average gap size. Species evenness generally reduced gap metrics induced by climatic events, so the typical assumption of maximum evenness in many experiments and models may underestimate community diversity and invasibility. Overall, understanding the factors driving gap formation in spatially structured assemblages can help predict community secondary succession after climatic events.