Testing biodiversity theory using species richness of reef-building corals across a depth gradient

Roberts, T. Edward, Keith, Sally A., Rahbek, Carsten, Bridge, Tom C.L., Caley, M. Julian, and Baird, Andrew H. (2019) Testing biodiversity theory using species richness of reef-building corals across a depth gradient. Biology Letters, 15 (10).

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Natural environmental gradients encompass systematic variation in abiotic factors that can be exploited to test competing explanations of biodiversity patterns. The species-energy (SE) hypothesis attempts to explain species richness gradients as a function of energy availability. However, limited empirical support for SE is often attributed to idiosyncratic, local-scale processes distorting the underlying SE relationship. Meanwhile, studies are also often confounded by factors such as sampling biases, dispersal boundaries and unclear definitions of energy availability. Here, we used spatially structured observations of 8460 colonies of photo-symbiotic reef-building corals and a null-model to test whether energy can explain observed coral species richness over depth. Species richness was left-skewed, hump-shaped and unrelated to energy availability. While local-scale processes were evident, their influence on species richness was insufficient to reconcile observations with model predictions. Therefore, energy availability, either in isolation or in combination with local deterministic processes, was unable to explain coral species richness across depth. Our results demonstrate that local-scale processes do not necessarily explain deviations in species richness from theoretical models, and that the use of idiosyncratic small-scale factors to explain large-scale ecological patterns requires the utmost caution.

Item ID: 61427
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1744-957X
Keywords: corals, species richness gradients, species-energy hypothesis, community assembly processes, biodiversity, depth
Copyright Information: (C) 2019 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
Funders: AIMS@JCU, Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC CE140100020
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2020 07:35
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410203 Ecosystem function @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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