Among-site variation in metacommunities (beta diversity) is typically correlated with the distance separating the sites (spatial lag). This distance decay in similarity pattern has been linked to both niche-based and dispersal-based community assembly hypotheses. Here we show that beta diversity patterns in community composition, when supplemented with functional-trait information, can be used to diagnose assembly processes. First, using simulated data, we show how the relationship between distance decay patterns in taxonomic and functional measures of community composition can be used to predict the influence of a given trait on community assembly. We then use the patterns generated by the simulation as a template to show that the sorting of benthic macroinvertebrate metacommunities in headwater streams is likely influenced by different sets of functional traits at regional and local scales. We suggest that functional-trait databases and spatially referenced taxonomic surveys can be used to predict the spatial scales at which different aspects of interspecific functional variation are involved in niche-based community assembly while accounting for the influence of dispersal-based community assembly processes.
© 2011, University of Chicago Press. View original published article at 10.1086/659625.