Effect of local and regional processes on plant species richness in tallgrass prairie

TitleEffect of local and regional processes on plant species richness in tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsCollins, SL, Glenn, SM, Briggs, JM
Pagination571 -579
Accession NumberKNZ00821
Keywordstallgrass prairie

Historically, diversity in a community was often believed to result primarily from local processes, but recent evidence suggests that regional diversity may strongly influence local diversity as well. We used experimental and observational vegetation data from Konza Prairie, Kansas, USA, to determine if: (1) there is a relationship between local and regional richness in tallgrass prairie vegetation; (2) local dominance reduces local species richness; and (3) reducing local dominance increases local and regional species richness. We found a positive relationship between regional and local richness; however, this relationship varied with grazing, topography and fire frequency. The decline in variance explained in the grazed vegetation, in particular, suggested that local processes associated with grazing pressure on the dominant grasses strongly influenced local species richness. Experimental removal of one of the dominant grasses, Andropogon scoparius, from replicate plots resulted in a significant increase in local species richness compared to adjacent reference plots. Overall all sites, species richness was higher in grazed (192 spp.) compared to ungrazed (158 spp.) areas. Across the Konza Prairie landscape, however, there were no significant differences in the frequency distribution of species occurrences, or in the relationship between the number of sites occupied and average abundance in grazed compared to ungrazed areas. Thus, local processes strongly influenced local richness in this tallgrass prairie, but local processes did not produce different landscape-scale patterns in species distribution and abundance. Because richness was enhanced at all spatial scales by reducing the abundance of dominant species, we suggest that species richness in tallgrass prairie results from feedbacks between, and interactions among, processes operating at multiple scales in space and time.