• Community assembly;
  • global warming;
  • priority effects;
  • protist microcosm;
  • temperature.


Both the order in which species arrive in a community, and environmental conditions, such as temperature, are known to affect community structure. Little is known, however, about the potential for, and occurrence of, interactions between assembly history and the environment. Of particular, interest may be the interaction between temperature and community assembly dynamics, especially in the light of predicted global climatic change and the fundamental processes that are governed, through metabolic rate, by an individual's environmental temperature. We present, to our knowledge, the first experimental exploration of how the influence of assembly history, temperature, and the interaction between the two alters the structure of communities of competitors, using small-scale protist microcosm communities where temperature and assembly order were manipulated factorially. In our experiment, the most important driver of long-term abundance was temperature but long-lasting assembly order effects influenced the relationship between temperature and abundance. Any advantage of early colonization proved to be short-lived, and there was rarely any long-term advantage to colonizing a habitat before other species. The results presented here suggest that environmental conditions shape community composition, but that occasionally temperature could interact with the stochastic nature of community assembly to significantly alter future community composition, especially where temperature change has been large. This could have important implications for the dynamics of both rare and invasive species.