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      Stochastic processes dominate during boreal bryophyte community assembly.

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          Why are plant species found in certain locations and not in others? The study of community assembly rules has attempted to answer this question, and many studies articulate the historic dichotomy of deterministic (predictable niches) vs. stochastic (random or semi-random processes). The study of successional sequences to determine whether they converge, as would be expected by deterministic theory, or diverge, as stochastic theory would suggest, has been one method used to investigate this question. In this article we ask the question: Do similar boreal bryophyte communities develop in the similar habitat created by convergent succession after fires of different severities? Or do the stochastic processes generated by fires of different severity lead to different communities? Specifically we predict that deterministic structure will be more important for large forest-floor species than stochastic processes, and that the inverse will be true for small bryophyte species. We used multivariate regression trees and model selection to determine the relative weight of structure (forest structure, substrates, soil structure) and processes (fire severity) for two groups of bryophyte species sampled in 12 sites (seven high-severity and five low-severity fires). Contrary to our first hypothesis, processes were as important for large forest-floor bryophytes as for small pocket species. Fire severity, its interaction with the quality of available habitat, and its impact on the creation of biological legacies played dominant roles in determining community structure. In this study, sites with nearly identical forest structure, generated via convergent succession after high- and low-severity fire, were compared to see whether these sites supported similar bryophyte communities. While similar to some degree, both the large forest-floor species and the pocket species differed after high-severity fire compared to low-severity fire. This result suggests that the "how," or process of habitat generation, influences community composition in this system and that a snapshot of habitat conditions taken at only one point in time is insufficient to explain species distribution.

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          Author and article information

          Sep 2013
          : 94
          : 9
          [1 ] Institut de Recherche sur les Forêts, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 445 Boulevard de l'Université, Rouyn-Noranda, Québec J9X 4E5, Canada. nicole.fenton@uqat.ca


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