Disturbance is key to maintaining species diversity in plant communities. Although the effects of disturbance frequency and extent on species diversity have been studied, we do not yet have a mechanistic understanding of how these aspects of disturbance interact with spatial structure of disturbance to influence species diversity. Here we derive a novel pair approximation model to explore competitive outcomes in a two-species system subject to spatially correlated disturbance. Generally, spatial correlation in disturbance favoured long-range dispersers, while distance-limited dispersers were greatly suppressed. Interestingly, high levels of spatial aggregation of disturbance promoted long-term species coexistence that is not possible in the absence of disturbance, but only when the local disperser was intrinsically competitively superior. However, spatial correlation in disturbance led to different competitive outcomes, depending on the disturbed area. Concerning ecological conservation and management, we theoretically demonstrate that introducing a spatially correlated disturbance to the system or altering an existing disturbance regime can be a useful strategy either to control species invasion or to promote species coexistence. Disturbance pattern analysis may therefore provide new insights into biodiversity conservation.
- Received March 8, 2016.
- Accepted April 11, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.