Functional convergence of different communities in similar environments would be expected as an outcome of the operation of 'assembly rules'. At an ecological level, competitive exclusion would restrict the co-occurrence of species with similar niches. Repetition of competitive sorting on an evolutionary time scale might lead to character displacement.
A Nothofagus-dominated rainforest in eastern Fiordland, New Zealand, was sampled by shoot frequency in contiguous 1 x 1 m quadrats, along a topologically-circular transect. The data were analysed at five scales up to 5 x 1 m, to search for assembly rules, i.e., generalised restrictions on species co- occurrences. There was no evidence of niche limitation in terms of the whole community, at any scale examined. Rather, variance in species richness was greater than expected from a null model, suggesting environmental heterogeneity. This conclusion was confirmed by using a patch-model.