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A null-model analysis of the spatio-temporal distribution of earthworm species assemblages in Colombian grasslands

  • Thibaud Decaëns (a1), Juan José Jiménez (a2) and Jean-Pierre Rossi (a3)

Earthworm assemblages are usually spatio-temporally structured in mosaics of patches with different species composition. We re-analysed results of past research carried out in Eastern Colombia to explore how interspecific competition accounts for this pattern. In three sown pastures and three native savannas, density data matrices were obtained from spatially explicit samplings at several successive dates, and spatio-temporal patterns of species assemblages were described through partial triadic analyses and geostatistics. This first analysis detected assemblage patchiness in the six plots at spatial scales ranging from 6 to 33 m. Species richness ranged from 5 to 6 species per plot. Null models were further used to analyse niche overlap and morphometric distribution patterns at two different scales, i.e. at the ‘plot level’ and the ‘patch level’. Seasonal and vertical niche overlaps were higher than expected by chance at both scales, indicating high environmental constraints on assemblage membership. Within-patch overlaps were lower than plot-scale overlaps. Biometric niche overlap was random at the plot level and was weakly lower than that expected by chance in patches. Body weight was significantly overdispersed and constant whatever the scale, while body length and diameter showed a similar trend within patches. These results suggest that earthworms form distinct assemblages within patches, mainly driven by deterministic responses to competition: ecologically similar species avoid competition through spatial segregation, whereas a minimal level of ecological segregation is required to allow co-existence in a given patch.

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