Spatial averaging and disturbance lead to high productivity in aquatic metacommunities
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2016 Nordic Society Oikos. Dispersal in heterogeneous ecosystems, such as coastal metacommunities, is a major driver of diversity and productivity. According to theory, both species richness and spatial averaging shape a unimodal relationship of productivity with dispersal. We experimentally tested the hypothesis that disturbances acting on local patches would buffer the loss of productivity at high dispersal by preventing synchronized species oscillations. To simulate these disturbances, our experimental assemblages involved species that self-organized in isolation under three inflow pulsing frequencies, where hydraulic displacement and nutrient loading affected assemblage diversity and composition. At steady-state, the emerging isolated assemblages were connected at three levels of dispersal creating three metacommunities of different connectivity. Consistent with theory, as dispersal increased, species richness in the metacommunity declined; productivity however remained high. This occurred because the most productive species in our study (which dominated the isolated patch of intermediate inflow pulsing frequency) dominated all three patches (low, intermediate and high inflow pulsing frequencies) after dispersal commenced in our metacommunities. This experimental result provides empirical support for the mechanism of spatial averaging. Furthermore, disturbances, in the form of localized pulsed inflows, prevented population oscillation synchrony caused by homogenization. Overall, our observations suggest that localized environmental fluctuations and the identity of species seem to be more influential than dispersal in shaping the diversity and composition of phytoplankton assemblages and stabilizing productivity.
author list (cited authors)
Smeti, E., Roelke, D. L., & Spatharis, S.
complete list of authors
Smeti, Evangelia||Roelke, Daniel L||Spatharis, Sofie