Species assembly patterns of local communities are shaped by the balance between multiple abiotic/biotic filters and dispersal that both select individuals from species pools at the regional scale. Knowledge regarding functional assembly can provide insight into the relative importance of the deterministic and stochastic processes that shape species assembly. We evaluated the hierarchical roles of the α niche and β niches by analyzing the influence of environmental filtering relative to functional traits on geographical patterns of tree species assembly in mid-latitude forests. Using forest plot datasets, we examined the α niche traits (leaf and wood traits) and β niche properties (cold/drought tolerance) of tree species, and tested non-randomness (clustering/over-dispersion) of trait assembly based on null models that assumed two types of species pools related to biogeographical regions. For most plots, species assembly patterns fell within the range of random expectation. However, particularly for cold/drought tolerance-related β niche properties, deviation from randomness was frequently found; non-random clustering was predominant in higher latitudes with harsh climates. Our findings demonstrate that both randomness and non-randomness in trait assembly emerged as a result of the α and β niches, although we suggest the potential role of dispersal processes and/or species equalization through trait similarities in generating the prevalence of randomness. Clustering of β niche traits along latitudinal climatic gradients provides clear evidence of species sorting by filtering particular traits. Our results reveal that multiple filters through functional niches and stochastic processes jointly shape geographical patterns of species assembly across mid-latitude forests.
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