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FACTORS AFFECTING SPECIES DIVERSITY

Introduction

There are many factors which affect the number of species present in a
community. Some of the factors are external ie abiotic effect of habitat while the
other factors come from within the community ie the individuals present will
themselves affect the species diversity (Pianka, 1988).

ABIOTIC FACTORS

1. Size of habitat : The size of the habitat obviously affects the number of
species which can live in it. For eg, a rock pool of a few square meters can
support only a handful of species of small size while a huge habitat like a forest
ecosystem is large enough to maintain populations of many different species.

2. Spatial patchiness : The spatial patchiness in a habitat allows organisms


with different requirements to live together. A rock pool with crevices and a
sandy floor littered with small stones provides more microhabitats for species
than a completely smooth walled rock bottomed pool.

3. Harshness of habitat : The harshness of habitat affects the number of


species that are able to survive in the community. A rock pool shows so much
daily changes in their environment that open sea animals cannot survive here.
Hence a rock pool which is frequently scoured by storms has low species
diversity.

4. Predictability of change in the habitat : If the changes occurring in a


environment are cyclic ie predictable, then different species can use the same
habitat at different times in the cycle. Typical cyclic changes are seasonality in
temperature and rainfall. For instance, in oak woods, the trees lose their leaves
every year due to low temperature in winter. As such there is always a “spring
window” in which the light demanding species of the ground flora can grow and
flower. As spring approaches, the woodland floor becomes darker as the leaves
develop and the shade tolerant species take over the space.

5. Disturbances in a habitat : Occasional severe or frequent low level


disturbances affect the population size. If population size are kept low there will
be more room for other population. For eg. In a rock pool community a heavy
winter storm removes algae from the rocks, this will provide space for other
species to colonize the bare space. If there is too much disturbance, however,
then the habitat becomes too harsh and species diversity may decline.

6. Isolation of habitat : If an area is far away from a similar habitat, fewer


species can colonize it. The absence of similar habitat close by decreases the
chance of some species reaching a habitat. This is seen on islands at large areas
from the main land.

BIOTIC FACTORS

1. Age of community type : The length of time the community type has
existed in evolutionary time may affect the species diversity. The various species
normally found in the community will be evolving together in association. The
longer the community type has existed the more species will have the
opportunity to join the community.

John Birks (1980) has shown that longer a tree species has existed in the
British woodland community, the more the insect species associated with it.
The two oak species which have been in Britain for about 9000 years have
284 species of insect living in them. The introduced plant species will have
fewer insect species. For eg. Sycamore introduced 650 years ago has 15
species of insect and the Horse Chestnut, in Britain for about 4 years has 4
species of insect associated with it. Some species are better at rejecting
grazers and the harmful effect of insects or they have a scattered distribution
which makes insect infestation difficult.

2. Age of community particular type : The length of time any one


community has existed in one site affects its species richness. A newly
developed community may contain only a few species and the number
increases as more species invade and establish. The degree of isolation will
alter the colonization time. The importance of age of a single community is
different from that of the age of the general community. The diversity in a
general community often depends on the co-evolution of organism while
diversity of a particular community is primarily due to the immigration of land
colonization by existing species.

3. Primary productivity : Primary productivity of a community may


influence species richness. If Primary productivity is high, then the herbivores
have abundant food as a result their number increases. High herbivore
number and diversity will influence the carnivore and so on along the food
chain.

4. Community structure : If the community structure is complex,


then the community will contain more niches. For eg. the trees, bush and
ground flora of a forest provides nest sites for birds, a huge leaf and bark
area for insect, support for climbers and ground cover for small mammals.
Many of these niches are not available in a grassland.

5. Competition : Competition between species in a community may


alter species richness. If more species are highly competitive for resources
such as food or space, some species may be eliminated. Sometimes a new
species invades a community and becomes very abundant, taking the place of
some pre-existing species. The population of these species may dwindle and
disappear. Competition is relative to degree of disturbances in a habitat. If
disturbance prevents a competitive species from dominating a community,
then species that may otherwise disappear may be able to survive. The
harshness of an environment in some habitat alters the relative competition
among species. The species which are well adapted to the environment have
a edge in surviving there. The effects of competition in structuring
communities is still not fully understood and there is much debate as to its
importance.

Conclusion
Some or all of these factors effect every community and influence species
diversity. A single factor can under different condition cause an increase or
decrease in species diversity.