The assembly of protist communities: Understanding drivers of historical contingency and causes and consequences of biodiversity
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Understanding mechanisms regulating the assembly of ecological communities is a major goal of community ecology. I combined experimental and theoretical approaches to investigate the influences of various ecological factors on the assembly of protist communities. My research included three experimental studies and one theoretical study. Two experimental studies used freshwater heterotrophic ciliated protists as model organisms to examine how species dispersal across local communities and functional and phylogenetic diversity of the species pool influence historical contingency of the assembled communities, respectively. The results of the first experiment showed that the differences in species colonization history led to alternative community states that substantially differed in species composition and abundances, regardless of the level of species dispersal. The results of the second experiment showed that historical contingency, measured by beta diversity and the strength of inhibitive priority effects decreased as phylogenetic and functional diversity of the species pool increased. In the third experimental study, I used the same model system and observed positive relationships between phylogenetic diversity and temporal stability of community biomass. These positive relationships are likely due to the reduced competition among species and increased asynchronous species responses to environmental changes under higher phylogenetic diversity. The theoretical study explored how phytoplankton and zooplankton coevolution drives species diversity patterns along productivity gradients in a mathematical model system. I explored the conditions for evolutionary divergence in phytoplankton and zooplankton and the consequent productivity-diversity relationships (PDR) using the theory of adaptive dynamics and numerical simulations. The results of numerical simulations showed that the coevolutionary dynamics of phytoplankton and zooplankton can generate transient unimodal or positive PDRs, and positive PDRs when the systems reach steady states. The findings of my research suggest an important role of traits and species ecological difference in understanding causes and consequences of biodiversity in community ecology.