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Citation. Tilman, D. 1986. Evolution and differentiation in terrestrial plant communities: the importance of the soil resource - light gradient. Pages 359-380 in T. Case and J. Diamond, Eds., Community Ecology, Harper and Row, New York.   [1162  LTER]

Introduction. Although there are over 300,000 species of terrestrial vascular plants worldwide, these species occur together in communities that are often similarly structured. One striking pattern is the convergence of unrelated species to a common set of morphological, physiological, and life history traits in widely separated but physically similar habitats worldwide (Orians and Paine 1983). this has perhaps been best studied in areas with Mediterranean climates (e.g., Mooney 1977, Cody and Moony 1978). Another pattern is that, for a wide variety of geographical areas, plant communities have their peak diversity in relatively resource-poor habitats (e.g., Beadle 1966; Dix and Smeins 1967; Whittaker and Niering 1975; Al-Mufti et al. 1977; Connell 1978; Grime 1979; Huston 1979, 1980; Tilman 1982; Shmida et al. 1985). Still another patter: within a given geographical region much of the variation in the local composition of plant communities of plant communities is associated with the type of parent material on which the soil formed (e.g., Lindsey 1961; Hole 1976; Rabinovitch-Vin 1979, 1983; Jenny 1980). Moreover the qualitative patterns observed in many cases of both primary and secondary succession are often similar in a variety of regions. The causes of such similarities are one of the major mysteries facing plant ecologists. Might such similarities imply that a few general underlying processes have greatly influenced terrestrial plant evolution and community structure? Or, must a unique explanation be invoked for each situation.

Keywords. terrestrial plants, soils, light gradient, plant communities

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