Identifying the mechanisms that shape natural communities is a major challenge in community ecology. Climatic conditions and local neighborhoods that have been described as important filters selecting a subset of species with traits fit for a site, thereby driving community assembly and dynamics. Evidence for both filters comes from quantifying how trait values of neighboring individuals influences individual performance. While there have been investigations of neighborhoods and traits at local sites and across regions without and with trait data, there is no information on how individual species respond and whether those responses differ across species ranges. The relative influence of climate and biotic neighborhoods varies across a species’ range and this should be considered when interpreting trait neighborhood–performance relationships; however, this has not been the case. In light of future global change, it is imperative to understand the effects of biotic and abiotic conditions on trait neighborhood–performance relationships to predict future changes in community dynamics.
In collaboration with Nathan Swenson we will develop spatially-explicit neighborhood models including not only the location of the individual, but also processes affecting individual performance. These models will allow us to understand the interaction between individual plant traits and the environment at small and large scales by using data from LTER sites and the USDA Forest Inventory and Analysis Program from across the eastern USA and Puerto Rico. Results of this study would provide general understanding of the mechanisms shaping plant communities to assess potential changes in community dynamics relevant for future management strategies.