Questions surrounding the causes and consequences of diversity lie at the centre of community ecology. Understanding the mechanisms by which species diversity is maintained motivates much experimental and theoretical work, but this work often focuses on fluctuation-independent mechanisms. Variability in habitat suitability is ubiquitous through space and time however, and provides another important path through which species diversity can be maintained. As a result, considering environmental variability has value for conservation and management. Finally, differences through space and time in the mechanisms that promote and maintain diversity produce spatially varying patterns of diversity. Spatial variation in different forms of diversity (species (SR), phylogenetic (PD), and functional diversity (FD)) creates difficult decisions about prioritization and reserve locations.
This thesis uses experimental, observational, and theoretical methods to explore the causes and consequences of diversity. I show that variation in space and time has important implications for species coexistence and diversity maintenance. In microbial nectar communities, temperature variation through space and time alters the importance of priority effects on community assembly. Using models of warming temperatures in annual plant communities I show that considering temporal partitioning of flowering (a strategy to minimize competition) introduces constraints on phenological shifts: this has implications for phenological monitoring programs. Finally, I show that variability in the timing of fire events in Mediterranean shrublands contributes to coexistence between life forms, suggesting that it should be considered for fire management. In the final two chapters, I focus on conservation prioritization. Comparisons of species richness and evolutionary diversity through space in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa show that existing reserves protect Proteaceae richness, but fail to capture evolutionary distinct species. More generally, in the final chapter I suggest that SR and PD should be congruent through space when species are of similar ages, regions are depauperate, or ranges are discontinuous. link to publication