A combination of local and regional factors and stochastic forces is expected to determine the occurrence of species and the structure of communities. However, in most cases, our understanding is incomplete, with large amounts of unexplained variation. Using functional groups rather than individual species may help explain the relationship between community composition and conditions. In this study, I used survey data from freshwater lakes and ponds to understand factors that determine the presence of the floating plant functional group in the northeast United States. Of the 176 water bodies surveyed, 104 (59.1%) did not contain any floating plant species. The occurrence of this functional group was largely determined by local abiotic conditions, which were spatially autocorrelated across the region. A model predicting the presence of the floating plant functional group performed similarly to the best species-specific models. Using a permutation test, I also found that the observed prevalence of floating plants is no different than expected by random assembly from a species pool of its size. These results suggest that the size of the species pool interacts with local conditions in determining the presence of a functional group. Nevertheless, a large amount of unexplained variation remains, attributable to either stochastic species occurrence or incomplete predictive models. The simple permutation approach in this study can be extended to test alternative models of community assembly.
McCann, Michael James, "Local and Regional Determinants of an Uncommon Functional Group in Freshwater Lakes and Ponds" (2015). Ecology & Evolution Faculty Publications. 1.