Drivers of beta diversity in modern and ancient reef-associated soft-bottom environments
Beta diversity, the compositional variation among communities, is often associated with environmental gradients. Other drivers of beta diversity include stochastic processes, priority effects, predation, or competitive exclusion. Temporal turnover may also explain differences in faunal composition between fossil assemblages. To assess the drivers of beta diversity in reef-associated soft-bottom environments, we investigate community patterns in a Middle to Late Triassic reef basin assemblage from the Cassian Formation in the Dolomites, Northern Italy, and compare results with a Recent reef basin assemblage from the Northern Bay of Safaga, Red Sea, Egypt. We evaluate beta diversity with regard to age, water depth, and spatial distance, and compare the results with a null model to evaluate the stochasticity of these differences. Using pairwise proportional dissimilarity, we find very high beta diversity for the Cassian Formation (0.91 ± 0.02) and slightly lower beta diversity for the Bay of Safaga (0.89 ± 0.04). Null models show that stochasticity only plays a minor role in determining faunal differences. Spatial distance is also irrelevant. Contrary to expectations, there is no tendency of beta diversity to decrease with water depth. Although water depth has frequently been found to be a key factor in determining beta diversity, we find that it is not the major driver in these reef-associated soft-bottom environments. We postulate that priority effects and the biotic structuring of the sediment may be key determinants of beta diversity.