THE INFLUENCE OF DISPERSAL ON ZOOPLANKTON COMMUNITY STRUCTURE AND SPECIES CO-OCCURRENCE PATTERNS
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The influence of regional processes, such as dispersal, on ecological communities has been the focal point of considerable ecological research. Evidence has shown that dispersal can impact community composition through interactions with predation, the introduction of keystone species, and maintenance of species lost due to competitive exclusion. Ecological communities can be characterized by several metrics including species richness, diversity, evenness, abundance and species co-occurrence patterns. Negative species co-occurrence patterns have historically been attributed to competitive interactions between species causing pairs of species to never co-occur. However, little attention has been paid to the contribution of dispersal on species co-occurrence patterns. I have experimentally investigated the influence of dispersal on species co-occurrence patterns in addition to local species richness, total species abundance, evenness, and Simpson’s diversity. Local species richness significantly increased with dispersal, with variation in total local richness being mainly attributed to differences in the rotifer community. Local diversity, total abundance, and evenness were not significantly influenced by changes in the level of dispersal. Species co-occurrence patterns were greatly affected by changes in dispersal, with negative species co-occurrence patterns peaking at intermediate levels of dispersal. The potential for dispersal to increase the number of rare species within a community suggested that the presence of rare species could be behind the changes in the co-occurrence patterns between dispersal treatments. The effect size of the co-occurrence tests increased with the removal of rare species in the intermediate dispersal treatment and decreased in the remaining dispersal treatments. Likely, through mass effects, the presence of rare species, and the establishment of keystone predators changes in the level of dispersal strongly influenced species co-occurrence patterns. I conclude that external processes, like dispersal, can influence species co-occurrence patterns and that caution should be taken when interpreting the mechanisms driving species co-occurrence patterns across landscapes.