Space resource utilization of dominant species integrates abundance- and functional-based processes for better predictions of plant diversity dynamics

Pengfei Zhang, Elizabeth T. Borer, Eric W. Seabloom, Merel B. Soons, Mariet M. Hefting, George A. Kowalchuk, Peter B. Adler, Chengjin Chu, Xiaolong Zhou, Cynthia S. Brown, Zhi Guo, Xianhui Zhou, Zhigang Zhao, Guozhen Du, Yann Hautier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Sustainable ecosystem management relies on our ability to predict changes in plant diversity and to understand the underlying mechanisms. Empirical evidence demonstrates that abundance- and functional-based processes simultaneously explain the loss of plant diversity in response to human activities. Recently, a novel indicator based on percent cover (CoverD) and maximum height (HeightD) of the dominant plant species – space resource utilization (SRUD) – has proven to give robust and better predictions of plant diversity dynamics than community biomass. Whether the superior predictive ability of SRUD is due to its capacity to simultaneously capture abundance- and functional-based processes remains unknown. Here, we tested this hypothesis by quantifying mechanistic links between changes in SRUD and biodiversity in response to nutrients and herbivores. Furthermore, we assessed the relative contribution of dominant, intermediate and rare species to reduced density of individuals by combining null model analysis with field experiments. We found that SRUD successfully captured changes in ground-level light availability and changes in the number of individuals to predict plant diversity dynamics, and each of CoverD and HeightD partly and independently contributed to both processes. Comparative results from null model analysis and field experiments confirmed that individual losses of dominant, intermediate and rare species followed non-random processes. Specifically, compared with random loss process, rare species lost proportionally more individuals and thus disproportionately contributed to species loss, while dominant and intermediate species lost less. Our results demonstrate that SRUD captures both abundance- and functional-based processes thus explaining why SRUD provides more accurate predictions of changes in species diversity. Given that rare species can play an important role in shaping community structure, resisting against invasion, impacting higher trophic levels and providing multiple ecosystem functions, reducing the SRU of dominant species could alleviate the risk of exclusion of rare species by mitigating abundance- and functional-based competition processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere09519
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
– This study was generated using data from one site of the Nutrient Network collaborative experiment ( ), funded at the site‐scale by individual researchers. Work at the site was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 32101267), the Start‐up Funds of Introduced Talent in Lanzhou University (grants no. 561120205) and the National Key Research and Development Program of China (grants no. 2017YFC0504801).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Nordic Society Oikos. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • abundance-based processes
  • dominant species
  • functional-based processes
  • non-random loss
  • number of individuals
  • space resource utilization
  • species richness


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