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Importance of assemblage-level thinning: A field experiment in an alpine meadow on the Tibet plateau

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Question: Which fraction of the decrease in species richness under fertilization can be explained by assemblage-level thinning?

Location: An alpine meadow on the eastern Tibet plateau.

Methods: 60-m2 plots were randomly assigned to a control or one of four levels of ammonium phosphate fertilizer. Treatments were repeated for three years. The effect of assemblage-level thinning was decided based on similarity in quadrats within and between fertilizing levels, bootstrap simulation based on random thinning of the high density (low production, low fertility) quadrats and correlation of species' biomass in low fertility and high fertility.

Results: Fertilization increased production, reduced species richness and reduced density of individuals. Heavily fertilized quadrats are more similar in species composition in 2000 but less similar in 2001 and 2002. Rarefaction showed that a decrease in density can account for 32.3-42.9% decrease of species richness, but the simulated species richness is always significantly higher than the observed one. When production and species richness are similar at two levels of fertilization, species biomass in the higher fertility treatment is positively correlated with biomass at lower fertility. When the two fertilizer levels differed in production and species richness, there was no evidence of correlation in species biomass, suggesting that assemblage level thinning cannot explain all the loss of species.

Conclusion: Although a decrease in density could explain much of the decrease (up to 42.9%) in species richness when this alpine meadow was fertilized, other important mechanisms such as interspecific competition cannot be ignored. Future studies should investigate the effect of assemblage level thinning on species diversity, and search for mechanisms responsible for a decrease in diversity.
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Keywords: BIOMASS; DENSITY; DIVERSITY; FERTILIZATION; PLANT SPECIES RICHNESS; RAREFACTION

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-08-01

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