Environmental filtering predicts plant-community trait distribution and diversity: Kettle holes as models of meta-community systems

Sissi Lozada-Gobilard, Susanne Stang, Karin Pirhofer-Walzl, Thomas Kalettka, Thilo Heinken, Boris Schröder, Jana Eccard, Jasmin Joshi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Meta-communities of habitat islands may be essential to maintain biodiversity in anthropogenic landscapes allowing rescue effects in local habitat patches. To understand the species-assembly mechanisms and dynamics of such ecosystems, it is important to test how local plant-community diversity and composition is affected by spatial isolation and hence by dispersal limitation and local environmental conditions acting as filters for local species sorting.We used a system of 46 small wetlands (kettle holes)—natural small-scale freshwater habitats rarely considered in nature conservation policies—embedded in an intensively managed agricultural matrix in northern Germany. We compared two types of kettle holes with distinct topographies (flat-sloped, ephemeral, frequently plowed kettle holes vs. steep-sloped, more permanent ones) and determined 254 vascular plant species within these ecosystems, as well as plant functional traits and nearest neighbor distances to other kettle holes.Differences in alpha and beta diversity between steep permanent compared with ephemeral flat kettle holes were mainly explained by species sorting and niche processes and mass effect processes in ephemeral flat kettle holes. The plant-community composition as well as the community trait distribution in terms of life span, breeding system, dispersal ability, and longevity of seed banks significantly differed between the two habitat types. Flat ephemeral kettle holes held a higher percentage of non-perennial plants with a more persistent seed bank, less obligate outbreeders and more species with seed dispersal abilities via animal vectors compared with steep-sloped, more permanent kettle holes that had a higher percentage of wind-dispersed species. In the flat kettle holes, plant-species richness was negatively correlated with the degree of isolation, whereas no such pattern was found for the permanent kettle holes.Synthesis: Environment acts as filter shaping plant diversity (alpha and beta) and plant-community trait distribution between steep permanent compared with ephemeral flat kettle holes supporting species sorting and niche mechanisms as expected, but we identified a mass effect in ephemeral kettle holes only. Flat ephemeral kettle holes can be regarded as meta-ecosystems that strongly depend on seed dispersal and recruitment from a seed bank, whereas neighboring permanent kettle holes have a more stable local species diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1898-1910
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • biodiversity
  • dispersal
  • disturbance
  • landscape diversity
  • life-history traits
  • plant diversity
  • seed bank
  • species assembly
  • wetland vegetation


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