The role of disturbance and resource availability in structuring plant communities

Craig David Rose, Florida International University


Disturbances alter competitive hierarchies by reducing populations and altering resource regimes. The interaction between disturbance and resource availability may strongly influence the structure of plant communities, as observed in the recolonization of seagrass beds in outer Florida Bay that were denuded by sea-urchin overgrazing. There is no consensus concerning the interaction between disturbance and resource availability on competition intensity (CI). On the other hand, species diversity is dependent on both factors. Peaks in species diversity have been observed to occur when both resource availability and disturbance intensity are high, thus implying that CI is low. Based on this supposition of previous models, I presented the resource-disturbance hypothesis as a graphical model to make predictions of CI as a function of both disturbance intensity and the availability of a limiting resource. The predictions of this model were tested in two experiments within a seagrass community in south Florida, in which transplants of Halodule wrightii were placed into near-monocultures of Syringodium filiforme in a full-factorial array. In the first experiment, two measures of relative CI were calculated based on the changes in the short-shoot number (SS) and of rhizome length (RHL) on the transplants. Both light and disturbance were identified as important factors, though the interaction between light * disturbance was not significant. Relative CISS ranged between 0.2 and 1.0 for the high light and high disturbance treatments and the relative CIRHL < 0 for the same treatments, though results were not significantly different due to high variability and low sample size. These results, including a contour schematic using six data points from the different treatment combinations, preliminarily suggests that the resource-disturbance hypothesis may be used may be used as a next step in developing our understanding of the mechanisms involved in structuring plant communities. Furthermore, the focus of the model is on the outcome of CI, which may be a useful predictor of changes in species diversity. Further study is needed to confirm the results of this study and validate the usefulness of this model in other systems.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Rose, Craig David, "The role of disturbance and resource availability in structuring plant communities" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3134697.