Predictable relationships among patterns, processes, and properties of plant communities are crucial for developing meaningful conceptual models in community ecology. We studied such relationships in 18 plant communities spread throughout nine Northern Hemisphere high-mountain subalpine and alpine meadow systems and found linear and curvilinear correlative links among temperature, precipitation, productivity, plant interactions, spatial pattern, and richness. We found that sites with comparatively mild climates have greater plant biomass, and at these sites strong competition corresponds with overdispersed distribution of plants, reducing intraspecific patchiness and in turn increasing local richness. Sites with cold climates have little biomass, and at these sites a high proportion of species benefit from strong facilitative effects of neighbors, leading to an aggregated distribution of plants. Sites with intermediate, or relatively moderate climates are intermediate in biomass, and at these sites interactions are weak (or competition may be counterbalanced by facilitation), corresponding with a nearly random distribution of plants. At these sites species richness is lower than average. We propose that the relationship between interspecific spatial pattern and community richness reflects niche differentiation and/or construction, which allows for the coexistence of more species than would be possible with random, unstructured spatial distributions. Discovering the mechanisms that drive the relationships described here would further link functional and structural components of plant communities and enhance the predictive capability of community ecology.
Copyright 2005 by the Ecological Society of America. Zaal Kikvidze, Francisco I. Pugnaire, Robin W. Brooker, Philippe Choler, Christopher J. Lortie, Richard Michalet, and Ragan M. Callaway 2005. LINKING PATTERNS AND PROCESSES IN ALPINE PLANT COMMUNITIES: A GLOBAL STUDY. Ecology 86:1395–1400. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/04-1926.