Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Ervin, Gary N.

Committee Member

Barton, Brandon

Committee Member

Lashley, Marcus

Date of Degree


Document Type

Graduate Thesis - Open Access


Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Biological Sciences


Assembly is a process that shapes the abundance and identity of species in a community. Niche and neutral theory explain assembly processes with mechanisms driven by either species differences, or functional equivalence and stochastic dispersal. In 2017 I sampled vegetation and environmental variables at 59 sites in the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge and Tombigbee National Forest of Mississippi to explore forest understory community assembly. I developed and assessed a framework of predictions concerning general patterns and underlying mechanism. Evidence of dispersal limitation and functional equivalence were expected under neutral theory. Local environmental characteristics, surrounding landscape variables, and fire were significant determinants of beta diversity. Dispersal was not a strong predictor of beta diversity. I found evidence of both niche complementarity and functional equivalence, as well as niche differences among common vines and an introduced vine (Lonicera japonica). Overall, the results were more congruent with predictions expected under niche theory.