Background: The prevalence of different biotic processes (limiting similarity, weaker competitor exclusion) and historical contingency due to priority effects are in the focus of ongoing discussions about community assembly and non-random functional trait distributions.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We experimentally manipulated assembly history in a grassland biodiversity experiment (Jena Experiment) by applying two factorially crossed split-plot treatments to all communities: (i) duration of weeding (never weeded since sowing or cessation of weeding after 3 or 6 years); (ii) seed addition (control vs. seed addition 4 years after sowing). Spontaneous colonization of new species in the control treatment without seed addition increased realized species richness and functional richness (FRic), indicating continuously denser packing of niches. Seed addition resulted in forced colonization and increased realized species richness, FRic, functional evenness (FEve) and functional divergence (FDiv), i.e. higher abundances of species with extreme trait values. Furthermore, the colonization of new species led to a decline in FEve through time, suggesting that weaker competitors were reduced in abundance or excluded. Communities with higher initial species richness or with longer time since cessation of weeding were more restricted in the entry of new species and showed smaller increases in FRic after seed addition than other communities. The two assembly-history treatments caused a divergence of species compositions within communities originally established with the same species. Communities originally established with different species converged in species richness and functional trait composition over time, but remained more distinct in species composition.
Conclusions/Significance: Contrasting biotic processes (limiting similarity, weaker competitor exclusion) increase functional convergence between communities initially established with different species. Historical contingency with regard to realized species compositions could not be eradicated by cessation of weeding or forced colonization and was still detectable 5 years after application of these treatments, providing evidence for the role of priority effects in community assembly.