University of Oulu

Arnillas, C. A., Borer, E. T., Seabloom, E. W., Alberti, J., Baez, S., Bakker, J. D., Boughton, E. H., Buckley, Y. M., Bugalho, M. N., Donohue, I., Dwyer, J., Firn, J., Gridzak, R., Hagenah, N., Hautier, Y., Helm, A., Jentsch, A., Knops, J. M. H., Komatsu, K. J., … Cadotte, M. W. (2021). Opposing community assembly patterns for dominant and nondominant plant species in herbaceous ecosystems globally. Ecology and Evolution, 11, 17744– 17761.

Opposing community assembly patterns for dominant and nondominant plant species in herbaceous ecosystems globally

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Author: Arnillas, Carlos Alberto1; Borer, Elizabeth T.2; Seabloom, Eric W.2;
Organizations: 1Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, ON, Canada
2University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
3Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (IIMyC, UNMdP, CONICET), Mar del Plata, Argentina
4Department of Biology, Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Quito, Ecuador
5School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
6Archbold Biological Station, Venus, Florida, USA
7School of Natural Sciences, Zoology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
8Centre for Applied Ecology Prof. Baeta Neves (CEABN-InBIO), School of Agriculture, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
9University of Queensland, School of Biological Sciences, ST-Lucia, Qld, Australia
10Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Brisbane, Qld, Australia
11Department of Zoology and Entomology, Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
12Ecology and Biodiversity Group, Department of Biology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
13Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
14Department of Disturbance Ecology, BayCEER, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany
15Department of Health and Environmental Sciences, Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University, Suzhou, China
16School of Biological Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
17Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Maryland, USA
18Department of Agricutural and Environmental Sciences, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Tartu, Estonia
19Poly Prep Country Day School, Brooklyn, New York, USA
20Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, USA
21School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Vic, Australia
22La Trobe University, Bundoora, Vic, Australia
23INTA-UNPA-CONICET, Rio Gallegos, Santa Cruz, Argentina
24Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, Western Sydney University, Penrith, Australia
25Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW, Australia
26National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, Bengaluru, India
27School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
28Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Canada
29Grupo de Investigaciones en Biología de la Conservación, Laboratorio Ecotono, INIBIOMA (CONICET-UNCOMA), San Carlos de Bariloche, Río Negro, Argentina
30Environmental and Conservation Sciences, College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia, Australia
31Ecology and Genetics, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
32Department of Biological Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, ON, Canada
33Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.2 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-02-11


Biotic and abiotic factors interact with dominant plants—the locally most frequent or with the largest coverage—and nondominant plants differently, partially because dominant plants modify the environment where nondominant plants grow. For instance, if dominant plants compete strongly, they will deplete most resources, forcing nondominant plants into a narrower niche space. Conversely, if dominant plants are constrained by the environment, they might not exhaust available resources but instead may ameliorate environmental stressors that usually limit nondominants. Hence, the nature of interactions among nondominant species could be modified by dominant species. Furthermore, these differences could translate into a disparity in the phylogenetic relatedness among dominants compared to the relatedness among nondominants. By estimating phylogenetic dispersion in 78 grasslands across five continents, we found that dominant species were clustered (e.g., co-dominant grasses), suggesting dominant species are likely organized by environmental filtering, and that nondominant species were either randomly assembled or overdispersed. Traits showed similar trends for those sites (<50%) with sufficient trait data. Furthermore, several lineages scattered in the phylogeny had more nondominant species than expected at random, suggesting that traits common in nondominants are phylogenetically conserved and have evolved multiple times. We also explored environmental drivers of the dominant/nondominant disparity. We found different assembly patterns for dominants and nondominants, consistent with asymmetries in assembly mechanisms. Among the different postulated mechanisms, our results suggest two complementary hypotheses seldom explored: (1) Nondominant species include lineages adapted to thrive in the environment generated by dominant species. (2) Even when dominant species reduce resources to nondominant ones, dominant species could have a stronger positive effect on some nondominants by ameliorating environmental stressors affecting them, than by depleting resources and increasing the environmental stress to those nondominants. These results show that the dominant/nondominant asymmetry has ecological and evolutionary consequences fundamental to understand plant communities.

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Series: Ecology and evolution
ISSN: 2045-7758
ISSN-E: 2045-7758
ISSN-L: 2045-7758
Volume: 11
Issue: 24
Pages: 17744 - 17761
DOI: 10.1002/ece3.8266
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: National Science Foundation, Grant/Award Number: NSF-DEB-1042132 and NSF-DEB-1234162; Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Grant/Award Number: 386151; Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, Grant/Award Number: DG-0001-13; Portuguese Science Foundation, Grant/Award Number: IF/01171/2014.
Dataset Reference: Data and codes are available at:
Copyright information: © 2021 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.