Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): Bryan L. Foster; Erin J. Questad; Cathy D. Collins; Cheryl A. Murphy; Timothy L. Dickson; Val H. Smith
    Date: 2011
    Source: Journal of Ecology 99(2):473-481
    Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
    Station: Pacific Southwest Research Station
    PDF: Download Publication  (369.03 KB)


    1. Spatial variation in species composition within and among communities may be caused by deterministic, niche-based species sorting in response to underlying environmental heterogeneity as well as by stochastic factors such as dispersal limitation and variable species pools. An important goal in ecology is to reconcile deterministic and stochastic perspectives of community assembly and to assess the contribution of each class of processes to community dynamics and structure.

    2. We present an 8-year field experiment of grassland secondary succession that documents plant community differentiation in response to an experimental gradient of nitrogen (N) fertilization, factorially crossed with a manipulation of the available species pool achieved using a multi-species seed sowing treatment. We evaluate the hypothesis, adapted from meta-community theory, that seed availability limits the contribution of niche-based, species sorting to patterns of community variation along an environmental gradient.

    3. The magnitude of species sorting and community differentiation observed in response to N fertilization (measured as N effect size on multivariate community composition) became progressively more distinct and more statistically significant over time in experimental plots as succession proceeded. However, this response was significantly more pronounced among plots that had been exposed to experimentally enriched propagule pools.

    4. Synthesis. Our findings support the hypothesis that dispersal limitations and species pools can mediate the contribution of niche-based, species–environment sorting to plant community development and limit the extent to which underlying resource gradients become deterministically expressed in patterns of vegetation composition. We suggest that continued habitat destruction and fragmentation in the former prairie landscape where this study was conducted would further reduce native species pools and habitat connectivity, diminishing opportunities for species–environment sorting and compromising the capacity of these grassland systems to respond to environmental change.

    Publication Notes

    • You may send email to to request a hard copy of this publication.
    • (Please specify exactly which publication you are requesting and your mailing address.)
    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Foster, Bryan L.; Questad, Erin J.; Collins, Cathy D.; Murphy,Cheryl A.; Dickson, Timothy L.; Smith, Val H. 2011. Seed availability constrains plant species sorting along a soil fertility gradient. Journal of Ecology 99(2):473-481.


    Google Scholar


    community assembly, community differentiation, determinants of plant, community diversity and structure, dispersal limitation, grassland, meta-community, nitrogen, gradient, secondary succession, species pool, species sorting

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page