The Community Assembly by Trait Selection (CATS) model of community assembly predicts species abundances along environmental gradients in relatively undisturbed vegetation. Here we ask whether this model, when calibrated with data from natural plant communities, can predict the abundances of five dominant grass species (Bouteloua gracilis, Elymus elymoides, Festuca arizonica, Muhlenbergia Montana, and Poa fendleriana) in a greenhouse experiment that manipulated light and soil properties. To address this question, we used generalized additive models (GAMs) to model community-weighted mean (CWM) seed mass, mean Julian flowering date, and specific root length (SRL) as non-linear functions of two environmental variables (soil pH and pine basal area) in natural vegetation. The model-fitted CWM traits were then used as constraints in the CATS model to predict the relative abundance of the five grass species that were seeded in a mixture at equal densities into a 2×2 factorial experiment with soil parent material and light level as crossed factors. Light was the most important factor influencing seedling community composition, especially the abundances of Bouteloua gracilis and Poa fendleriana. The model-predicted relative abundances were significantly correlated with the observed relative abundances, and the model accurately predicted the dominant species in every treatment. P. fendleriana was correctly predicted to be the most abundant species in both shade treatments and the sun-basalt treatment, and B. gracilis was correctly predicted to be the most abundant species in the sun-limestone treatment. Our results provide experimental evidence that environmental filtering of the species pool occurs in the early stages of community assembly (including germination, emergence, and early growth), and that trait-based models calibrated with data from natural plant communities can be used to predict the outcome of the early stages of community assembly under experimental conditions.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)