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Effect of community assembly and primary succession on the species-area relationship in disturbed ecosystems

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The species-area relationship (SAR) provides a cornerstone for ecological theory. Implicit in SAR studies is the assumption that SAR properties, especially SAR slopes, remain constant through time, even though the ecosystem characteristics that they encompass–the spatial distribution and abundance of species–change on seasonal to evolutionary time scales. Focusing on disturbed subalpine systems, we evaluated whether SAR properties are a function of stage of succession at Mount St. Helens, WA, and at Gothic, CO. We found that the SAR flattens and shifts upward as these systems mature. The decrease in SAR curvature at Mount St. Helens suggests a transition toward power-law SAR behavior with assembly. Overall, the observed changes in SAR properties raise questions about the appropriateness of applying contemporary SARs to predict future levels of species richness in disturbed or successional systems.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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