Strong Interactive Species in Metacommunities: The Interaction Between Dispersal and Daphnia magna in Zooplankton Communities

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Virginia Tech


Metacommunity ecology explicitly incorporates processes at multiple spatial scales to explain the assembly and dynamics of a community. In a metacommunity, local communities interact with one another through the dispersal of individuals across a region. As such, metacommunities are molded by two sets of processes: local and regional. Local factors are those that directly impact a single local community, such as environmental conditions, competition, and predation. On the other hand, regional factors affect communities across a landscape and include mechanisms such as, immigration and emigration. The potential interactions between local and regional factors make metacommunity dynamics a unique body of theory when compared to classic community theory. However, while the direct influence of dispersal on metacommunity dynamics continues to be a well-researched topic, how dispersal interacts with local factors to shape metacommunity dynamics is a more open topic. In particular, one continuing gap in my knowledge is how dispersal interacts with biotic effect how it may affect metacommunities. One type of local biotic process that can directly affect communities is a strong interactive species, i.e., a species that affects community structure and diversity, and to the best of my knowledge, the interaction between dispersal and strongly interactive species has not been directly addressed experimentally. In the following study, I investigated the interaction of dispersal and a strong interactive species on metacommunity diversity and assembly. I chose Daphnia magna as my strong interacting species due to its biological and physical traits. Dispersal is known to create predictable patterns of diversity as it increases in a metacommunity. We made logical predictions based off of my knowledge of these patterns, and my inclinations regarding how dispersal would interact with a strong interacting species. The following predictions were made in relation to the control: 1) Alpha diversity would be the highest during low dispersal as new species would be introduced and maintained above the extinction threshold. I also predicted beta diversity would decrease with increased dispersal due to the homogenization of communities. 2) In the presence of D. magna, beta diversity would only increase during low dispersal due to possible rescue effects. 3) Temporal variability would decrease for the low dispersal treatment and increase for the high dispersal treatment in the absence of D. magna. 4) Temporal variability would overall increase across all treatments in the presence of D. magna. To carry out the study, I assembled outdoor mesocosms using a 2x3x3x4 factorial design (Daphnia Treatment: no addition of D. magna, addition of D. magna; Dispersal Treatment: no dispersal, low dispersal, high dispersal; three buckets were equivalent to one metacommunity; 4 replicates). There was a significant interaction between D. magna and dispersal. Over time, beta diversity decreased as communities became homogenized; however, the no dispersal treatment homogenized at a slower rate compared to the other treatments. In addition, D. magna appeared to create local selection for certain taxa resulting in the increase of Bosmina and Simocephalus while other taxa decreased, for example Streblocerus. This trend was likely due to the feeding and grazing habits of D. magna which is known to outcompete other large zooplankton for larger phytoplankton taxa. Lastly, D. magna directly influenced temporal variability of metacommunities in the experiment. In particular, the low dispersal treatment increased in temporal variability in the presence of D. magna. Again, this result could likely be attributed to D. magna effects selecting for certain taxa, or by the re-introduction of new or dying species with each dispersal through rescue effects. Overall, the results in my study supported majority of my predictions. It is clear that D. magna had an effect on communities as taxa abundances increased and beta diversity in the no dispersal treatment did not decrease as quickly. This result suggests that the introduction of D. magna as an invasive to non-local waters could pose a threat to local community dynamics. It is important to understand how a strong interactive species can affect communities across a landscape as they can greatly alter diversity and composition. Future studies should focus on expanding the dispersal gradient and incorporating a local strong interactive species and non-local strong interactive species to understand how they may change community dynamics.



metacommunity, zooplankton, species interaction, Daphnia magna, dispersal