Date of Award:

2016

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

James A. Lutz

Abstract

The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity has been advanced as a universal theory for species coexistence in forests worldwide, but few studies have examined its relevance to high-elevation, stressful environments. I established the Utah Forest Dynamics Plot (UFDP) in a heterogeneous subalpine forest at 3,091 m elevation on the Colorado Plateau to examine three underlying assumptions of neutral theory (functional equivalence, ecological equivalence, and habitat generality) and one prediction (the species abundance distribution). The UFDP comprises 27,845 stems ≥1 cm diameter at breast height of 17 species, 10 genera, and 6 families over 13.6 ha. The neutral model was a poor fit to the observed species abundance distribution, but I did not find the alternative lognormal model to provide a better fit. Using spatial pattern analyses of tree data, topography, and soil type, I found some limited support for the neutral theory assumptions of functional and ecological equivalency, with notable exceptions. Populus tremuloides, Pinus flexilis, and Pinus longaeva were characterized by non-neutral recruitment processes, and Abies bifolia and Populus tremuloides exhibited asymmetric competitive and facilitative interactions. The assumption of habitat generality was strongly contradicted, with all ten abundant species in the UFDP having habitat preference. In this subalpine temperate forest, species diversity and community structure are influenced more by habitat heterogeneity, species differences, and niche selection, with neutral processes playing a lesser role.

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