Date of Award:

2016

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

James A. MacMahon

Abstract

Ecological communities are complex, the structure of which is composed of interactions between multiple community characteristics and the abiotic and biotic factors shaping them. Because of this complexity, ecological studies are generally limited in scope and size, often dissecting communities into their component parts to examine them piece by piece. While this might be the most practical method to study communities, this approach often neglects other characteristics that, with their inclusion, would provide a more complete picture of community ecology. The studies described in this dissertation were conducted in an effort to synthesize the complexity that is inherent in ecological plant communities growing on a Mojave Desert bajada. Each study addresses a separate component of community structure, which, taken as a whole, provides a more thorough understanding of arid plant community dynamics. Overall, our results reveal the importance of substrate variables and their role in shaping plant community structure in arid environments. In addition, these investigations provide evidence of the strong role that facilitation plays on this bajada and possibly arid plant communities as a whole. The comprehensive approach described in this dissertation will enable ecologists to gain a more complete understanding of community dynamics and apply this knowledge to various climate change and land management scenarios.

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