Ecological theory suggests that a combination of local and regional factors regulate biodiversity and community functioning in metacommunities. The relative importance of different factors structuring communities likely changes over successional time, but to date this concept is scarcely documented. In addition, the few studies describing successional dynamics in metacommunity regulation have only focused on a single group of organisms. Here, we report results of an experimental study testing the effect size of initial local community composition and dispersal between local patches on community dynamics of benthic microalgae and their associated bacteria over community succession. Our results show that over time dispersal outweighed initial effects of community composition on microalgal evenness and biomass, microalgal β-diversity, and the ratio of bacteria to microalgae. At the end of the experiment (ca. 20 microalgae generations), dispersal significantly decreased microalgal evenness and β-diversity by promoting one regionally superior competitor. Dispersal also decreased the ratio of bacteria to microalgae, while it significantly increased microalgal biomass. These results suggest that the dispersal-mediated establishment of a dominant and superior microalgae species prevented bacteria from gaining competitive advantage over the autotrophs in these metacommunities, ultimately maintaining the provision of autotrophic biomass. Our study emphasizes the importance of time for dispersal to be a relevant community-structuring mechanism. Moreover, we highlight the need for considering multiple competitors in complex metacommunity systems to properly pinpoint the consequences of local change in dominance through dispersal for metacommunity function.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics