Insights on plant interaction between dominating species from patterns of plant association: expected covariance of pin-point cover measurements of two species

Research paper by Christian Damgaard, Bodil K. Ehlers, Johannes C. G. Ransijn, Inger K. Schmidt, Jens-Christian Svenning

Indexed on: 04 Feb '18Published on: 03 Feb '18Published in: Environmental and Ecological Statistics


It has been suggested that in order to infer ecological processes from observed patterns of species abundance we need to investigate the covariance in species abundance. Consequently, an expression for the expected covariance of pin-point cover measurements of two species is developed. By comparing the observed covariance with the expected covariance we get a new type of information on the spatial arrangement of two species. Here the discrepancy between the observed and expected covariance may be thought of as a measure of the spatial configuration of the two species that may indicate underling ecological processes. The method is applied in a case study of Calluna vulgaris and Deschampsia flexuosa on dry heathland sites. The observed covariance of Calluna and Deschampsia at the level of the sites was positively and significantly correlated with the expected covariance. Negative covariance was observed on sites where both Calluna and Deschampsia had a high cover, which is in agreement with the notion that both species form distinct patches. Oppositely, at sites where both species have a low cover, we found that both the expected and observed covariance were positive. The proposed measure for the expected covariance of two species does capture information on the combined spatial configuration of the two species if the species are common. We show how this may be relevant for understanding the underlying ecological processes leading to the observed covariance.