The stress dominance hypothesis (SDH) postulates that strong environmental gradients drive trait convergence in communities over limiting similarity. Previous studies, conducted mostly with terrestrial plant communities, found controversial evidence for this prediction. We provide here the first test for SDH for epiphytic diatoms. We studied community assembly in diatom communities of astatic ponds. These water bodies serve as a good model system for testing SDH because they exhibit stress gradients of various environmental factors. Functional diversity of diatom communities was assessed based on four traits: (1) combined trait reflecting the trade-off between stress tolerance and competitive dominance, (2) cell size, (3) oxygen requirement and (4) N-uptake strategy. According to our results, salinity, pH and the width of the macrophyte belt appeared as significant predictors of the trait convergence/divergence patterns presumably acting through influencing the availability of carbon dioxide and turbidity. Lower trait diversity was found in turbid, more saline and more alkaline ponds and functional diversity was higher in transparent, less saline and less alkaline ponds. Overall, our results supported the stress dominance hypothesis. In habitats representing increased environmental stress, environmental filtering was the most important community assembly rule, while limiting similarity became dominant under more favourable conditions.
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