Environmental and dispersal-based processes have been widely investigated for the understanding of community assembly. However, the relative importance of these ecological processes across spatial scales, life history stages and forest types needs to be largely studied. We test the variability of ecological processes in shaping tree community composition across life stages and spatial scales, and in particular, the hypothesis that dispersal limitation dominates at smaller scales and early life stages, but environmental filtering at larger scales and later life stages. We used spatially explicit point process models to estimate the relative importance of environmental and dispersal processes and their combined effect on beta diversity across spatial scales and life stages in tropical and subtropical forests. These models fit the observed species distribution pattern and generated realizations of the fitted models for each species. We found that the importance of environmental and dispersal processes did not shift with life stages or vegetation types, but did with spatial scales. Dispersal provided the best explanation of large-scale patterns, but dispersal combined with environmental selection was superior for small-scale patterns. In conclusion, we confirm the importance of spatial scale for the effects and identification of community assembly mechanisms. Our results also suggest that the importance of both dispersal and environmental processes for community assembly could be pervasive across life stages and vegetation types. The generality of these findings should be tested further in different vegetation types and life stages to assess whether specific ecological processes have consistent effects on community structure across life stages and vegetation types.
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