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Theory on plant succession predicts a temporal increase in the complexity of spatial community structure and of competitive interactions: initially random occurrences of early colonising species shift towards spatially and competitively structured plant associations in later successional stages. Here we use long-term data on early plant succession in a German post mining area to disentangle the importance of random colonisation, habitat filtering, and competition on the temporal and spatial development of plant community structure. We used species co-occurrence analysis and a recently developed method for assessing competitive strength and hierarchies (transitive versus intransitive competitive orders) in multispecies communities. We found that species turnover decreased through time within interaction neighbourhoods, but increased through time outside interaction neighbourhoods. Successional change did not lead to modular community structure. After accounting for species richness effects, the strength of competitive interactions and the proportion of transitive competitive hierarchies increased through time. Although effects of habitat filtering were weak, random colonization and subsequent competitive interactions had strong effects on community structure. Because competitive strength and transitivity were poorly correlated with soil characteristics, there was little evidence for context dependent competitive strength associated with intransitive competitive hierarchies.

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© 2015 The Authors.



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