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Compartmentalized organization of ecological niche occupation in insular invertebrate communities

Citation

Steibl, Sebastian; Laforsch, Christian (2021), Compartmentalized organization of ecological niche occupation in insular invertebrate communities, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.63xsj3v18

Abstract

Understanding the mechanisms of species distribution within ecosystems is a fundamental question of ecological research. The current worldwide changes and loss of habitats associated with a decline in species richness render this topic a key element for developing mitigation strategies. Ecological niche theory is a widely accepted concept to describe species distribution along environmental gradients where each taxon occupies its own distinct set of environmental parameters, i.e. its niche. Niche occupation has been described in empirical studies for different closely related taxa, like ant, ungulate, or skink species, just to name a few. However, how species assemblages of whole ecosystems across multiple taxa are structured and organized has not been investigated thoroughly, although considering all taxa of a community would be essential when analyzing realized niches. Here, we investigated the organization of niche occupation and species distribution for the whole ground-associated invertebrate community of small tropical insular ecosystems. By correlating environmental conditions with species occurrences using partial canonical correspondence analysis (pCCA), we demonstrated that the ground-associated invertebrate community does not spread evenly across the overall niche space, but instead is compartmentalized in four distinct clusters: crustacean and gastropod taxa occurred in one cluster, attributable to the beach habitat, whereas hexapods and spider taxa occurred in three distinct inland clusters, attributable to distinct inland habitats, i.e. grassland, open forest, and dense forest. Within the clusters, co-occurrence pattern analysis suggested only a few negative interactions between the different taxa. By studying ground-associated insular invertebrate communities, we have shown that species distribution and niche occupation can be, similar to food webs, organized in a compartmentalized way. The compartmentalization of the niche space might thereby be a mechanism to increase ecosystem resilience, as disturbances cascade more slowly throughout the ecosystem.

Funding

Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes