Community assembly in the presence of disturbance: a microcosm experiment
Patel, Shivani N.
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Ecologists know relatively little about the manner in which disturbance affects the likelihood of alternative community stable states and how the history of community assembly affects the relationship between disturbance and species diversity. Using microbial communities comprising bacterivorous ciliated protists assembled in laboratory microcosms, we experimentally investigated these questions by independently manipulating the intensity of disturbance (in the form of density-independent mortality) and community assembly history (including a control treatment with simultaneous species introduction and five sequential assembly treatments). Species diversity patterns consistent with the intermediate disturbance hypothesis emerged in the controls, as several species showed responses indicative of a trade-off between competitive ability and ability to recover from disturbance. Species diversity in communities with sequential assembly, however, generally declined with disturbance, owing to the increased extinction risk of later colonizers at the intermediate level of disturbance. Similarities among communities subjected to different assembly histories increased with disturbance, a result due possibly to increasing disturbance reducing the importance of competition and hence priority effects. This finding is most consistent with the idea that increasing disturbance tends to reduce the likelihood of alternative stable states. Collectively, these results indicate the strong interactive effects of disturbance and assembly history on the structure of ecological communities.