Aboveground and belowground arthropods experience different relative influences of stochastic versus deterministic community assembly processes following disturbance

Scott Ferrenberg, Alexander S. Martinez, Akasha M. Faist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background. Understanding patterns of biodiversity is a longstanding challenge in ecology. Similar to other biotic groups, arthropod community structure can be shaped by deterministic and stochastic processes, with limited understanding of what moderates the relative influence of these processes. Disturbances have been noted to alter the relative influence of deterministic and stochastic processes on community assembly in various study systems, implicating ecological disturbances as a potential moderator of these forces. Methods. Using a disturbance gradient along a 5-year chronosequence of insectinduced tree mortality in a subalpine forest of the southern Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA, we examined changes in community structure and relative influences of deterministic and stochastic processes in the assembly of aboveground (surface and litter-active species) and belowground (species active in organic and mineral soil layers) arthropod communities. Arthropods were sampled for all years of the chronosequence via pitfall traps (aboveground community) and modified Winkler funnels (belowground community) and sorted to morphospecies. Community structure of both communities were assessed via comparisons of morphospecies abundance, diversity, and composition. Assembly processes were inferred from a mixture of linear models and matrix correlations testing for community associations with environmental properties, and from null-deviation models comparing observed vs. expected levels of species turnover (Beta diversity) among samples. Results. Tree mortality altered community structure in both aboveground and belowground arthropod communities, but null models suggested that aboveground communities experienced greater relative influences of deterministic processes, while the relative influence of stochastic processes increased for belowground communities. Additionally, Mantel tests and linear regression models revealed significant associations between the aboveground arthropod communities and vegetation and soil properties, but no significant association among belowground arthropod communities and environmental factors. Discussion. Our results suggest context-dependent influences of stochastic and deterministic community assembly processes across different fractions of a spatially co-occurring ground-dwelling arthropod community following disturbance. This variation in assembly may be linked to contrasting ecological strategies and dispersal rates within above- and below-ground communities. Our findings add to a growing body of evidence indicating concurrent influences of stochastic and deterministic processes in community assembly, and highlight the need to consider potential variation across different fractions of biotic communities when testing community ecology theory and considering conservation strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2545
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2016


  • Arthropods
  • Beta diversity
  • Biodiversity
  • Community assembly
  • Community structure
  • Deterministic processes
  • Ecological disturbance
  • Niche
  • Soil biology
  • Stochastic processes


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