Plants on small islands revisited: the effects of spatial scale and habitat quality on the species-area relationship

5 April 2019

Schrader, Julian; Moeljono, Soetjipto; Keppel, Gunnar; Kreft, Holger

Understanding how species diversity is related to sampling area and spatial scale is central to ecology and biogeography. Small islands and small sampling units support fewer species than larger ones. However, the factors influencing species richness may not be consistent across scales. Richness at local scales is primarily affected by small-scale environmental factors, stochasticity, and the richness at the island scale. Richness at whole-island scale, however, is usually strongly related to island area, isolation, and habitat diversity. Despite these contrasting drivers at local and island scales, island species-area relationships (SARs) are often constructed based on richness sampled at the local scale. Whether local scale samples adequately predict richness at the island scale and how local scale samples influence the island SAR remains poorly understood. We investigated the effects of different sampling scales on the SAR of trees on 60 small islands in the Raja Ampat archipelago (Indonesia) using standardised transects and a hierarchically nested sampling design. We compared species richness at different grain sizes ranging from single (sub)transects to whole islands and tested whether the shape of the SAR changed with sampling scale. We then determined the importance of island area, isolation, shape, and habitat quality at each scale on species richness. We found strong support for scale dependency of the SAR. The SAR changed from exponential shape at local sampling scales to sigmoidal shape at the island scale indicating variation of species richness independent of area for small islands and hence the presence of a small-island effect. Island area was the most important variable explaining species richness at all scales, but habitat quality was also important at local scales. We conclude that the SAR and drivers of species richness are influenced by sampling scale, and that the sampling design for assessing the island SARs therefore requires careful consideration.