Rainfall, biomass variation, and community composition in the Park Grass Experiment

Silvertown, Jonathan; Dodd, Mike E.; McConway, Kevin; Potts, Jacqueline and Crawley, Mick (1994). Rainfall, biomass variation, and community composition in the Park Grass Experiment. Ecology, 75(8) pp. 2430–2437.

URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1940896


We used data on grassland plant community composition over a 90-yr period in the history of the Park Grass Experiment, England to look for relationship between variation in composition and annual variation in rainfall and biomass. This was investigated by regressions of biomass and rainfall on each other, and of these variables separately on each of three different measures of variation in plant community composition. Two of these measures, principal components analysis scores based on variation in species abundance and the ratio by mass of nongrass/grass species, showed significant relationships with biomass variation on many experimental plots, although relationships with rainfall were relatively slight or nonexistent. The third measure employed similarity indices to detect changes in species composition in response to variation in biomass, but failed to find any. Biomass was significantly increased by rainfall on all plots. We propose that variation in community composition was more closely related to biomass variation than to rainfall because rainfall selectively favored the grasses in the community, which we believe competed asymmetrically (for light) with the other species when rainfall was high. The severity of this competition would depend upon biomass more directly than upon rainfall, although it is rainfall that enhanced grass growth. In effect, asymmetric competition magnified the effect of rainfall on community composition.

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