Spatial and temporal changes in community structure of soil organisms may result from a myriad of processes operating at a hierarchy of spatial scales, from small-scale habitat conditions to species movements among patches and large-sale landscape features. To disentangle the relative importance of spatial and environmental factors at different scales (plot, patch and landscape), we analyzed changes in Collembola community structure along a gradient of forest fragmentation, testing predictions of the Hierarchical Patch Dynamics Paradigm (HPDP) in different European biogeographic regions (Boreal, Continental, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Alpine). Using variance partitioning methods, based on partial CCAs, we observed that the independent effect of environmental processes was significantly explaining Collembola community variance in all regions, while the relative effect of spatial variables was not significant, due to the observed high levels of landscape heterogeneity along the gradient. Environmental factors at the patch and plot scales were generally significant and explained the larger part of community changes. Landscape variables were not significant across all study sites. Yet, at the landscape level, an increase in forest habitat and proximity of forest patches were showed to have an indirect influence on local community changes, by influencing microhabitat heterogeneity at lower spatial scales in all studied regions. In line with HPDP, large-scale landscape features influenced spatio-temporal changes in soil fauna communities by constraining small-scale environmental processes. In turn, these provided mechanistic understanding for diversity patterns operating at the patch scale, via shifts in community weighted mean of Collembola life-forms occurring in local communities along the fragmentation gradient.
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