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Data from: Decay of ecosystem differences and decoupling of tree community-soil environment relationships at ecotones

Cite this dataset

Blackwood, Christopher B. et al. (2013). Data from: Decay of ecosystem differences and decoupling of tree community-soil environment relationships at ecotones [Dataset]. Dryad.


Ecotones are important landscape features where there is a transition between adjoining ecosystems. However, there are few generalized hypotheses about the response of communities to ecotones, except for a proposed increase in species richness that receives varying empirical support. Based on the assumption that transport of abiotic material and dispersal of organism propagules across ecotones are independent processes, we propose the new hypothesis that ecotones decouple community-environment relationships, increasing the importance of spatial structure that is independent of the environment. We tested this hypothesis by examining the effects of ecotones on relationships between trees and soil properties in a temperate deciduous forest. The study area included different landforms defined by topography, hydrology, and geomorphology, which we designated upland, bottomland, and riparian forests. The site also included a mowed herbaceous corridor. We found that soil properties and tree community composition significantly differed among landforms, and thus they could be treated as differing ecosystem types. However, inclusion of plots near ecotones significantly reduced the variance explained by landform due to introduction of increased noise, increased similarity of ecotone plots in different landforms, or both. To examine tree community-soil environment relationships, factorial kriging analysis was used to decompose variation in soil properties into structures associated with differing spatial scales, which were then used as predictors of tree composition using redundancy analysis. In agreement with the ecotone-decoupling hypothesis, we found that ecotones introduced significant unexplained variation into correlations between tree community composition and soil properties. In addition, spatial variation in tree community composition that was independent of soil properties was only detected when ecotones were included in the analysis, and little variation in tree community composition was attributed to small-scale soil property structures. Together, these results indicate that dispersal limitation and mass effects in the tree community take on increased importance near ecotones. We found no consistent changes in tree species richness associated with ecotones, and suggest that the ecotone-decoupling hypothesis may correspond with a more general community-level pattern that warrants further testing. Decoupling of community-environment relationships near ecotones also has important implications for accuracy of models predicting community distributions from abiotic information.

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