Do similar communities develop in similar sites? A test with zooplankton structure and function
Jenkins, D. G.
Buikema, Arthur L. Jr.
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McCune and Alien (1985) asked the question "Will similar forests develop on similar sites?" and concluded that dissimilar old-growth forests had developed on similar sites due to historical factors (colonization, disturbance, etc.). We asked "Do similar zooplankton communities develop in similar ponds?" We compared zooplankton community structure and function in 12 newly constructed experimental ponds during 1 yr of natural colonization and analyzed a suite of physical-chemical variables to evaluate the assumption of environmental similarity among ponds. Ponds were similar for the measured environmental variables. However, zooplankton communities were structurally different, as indicated by analyses of species presence/absence, colonization and species accrual curves, and taxa (rotifer, copepod, cladoceran, and Chaoborus) density and biomass. Species varied widely in their colonization abilities. Zooplankton communities also differed in productivity of some taxa and community-level respiration rates. Scale was important in detecting structure and function differences among zooplankton communities. Species- and taxa-level analyses showed clear differences among communities, but community-level analyses of structure (species richness, total density and biomass) and function (productivity, respiration, and ammonia regeneration rates) could not identify distinct sets of communities. Community structure and function may be comparable in sensitivity for detecting change but need to be compared at equivalent scales. Dispersal (as evidenced by colonization history) was a regulator of new zooplankton communities, because it did not occur rapidly or uniformly among similar ponds. All zooplankton do not disperse readily. The extent to which dispersal limits older zooplankton communities is unknown, but genetic studies indicate low dispersal rates among established populations. Dispersal also regulates assemblages of organisms expected to be less vagile than zooplankton and in various ecosystems, indicating that "supply-side" and metapopulation concepts are valuable for community ecology. Priority effects may have lasting influence on subsequent community structure, depending on colonization rates and sequences. We propose explicit recognition (and careful examination) of a commonly assumed but rarely tested "quorum effect": local abiotic and biotic processes regulate communities and arrival processes do not, because potential members have already arrived. Given either priority or quorum effects, dispersal may be an important, often-overlooked process regulating community structure and function, especially when it is not rapid.