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Regional zooplankton dispersal provides spatial insurance for ecosystem function


Correspondence: Celia C. Symons, tel. ±  858 926 9912, fax ±  613 533 6617, e-mail:


Changing environmental conditions are affecting diversity and ecosystem function globally. Theory suggests that dispersal from a regional species pool may buffer against changes in local community diversity and ecosystem function after a disturbance through the establishment of functionally redundant tolerant species. The spatial insurance provided by dispersal may decrease through time after environmental change as the local community monopolizes resources and reduces community invasibility. To test for evidence of the spatial insurance hypothesis and to determine the role dispersal timing plays in this response we conducted a field experiment using crustacean zooplankton communities in a subarctic region that is expected to be highly impacted by climate change – Churchill, Canada. Three experiments were conducted where nutrients, salt, and dispersal were manipulated. The three experiments differed in time-since-disturbance that the dispersers were added. We found that coarse measures of diversity (i.e. species richness, evenness, and Shannon–Weiner diversity) were generally resistant to large magnitude disturbances, and that dispersal had the most impact on diversity when dispersers were added shortly after disturbance. Ecosystem functioning (chl-a) was degraded in disturbed communities, but dispersal recovered ecosystem function to undisturbed levels. This spatial insurance for ecosystem function was mediated through changes in community composition and the relative abundance of functional groups. Results suggest that regional diversity and habitat connectivity will be important in the future to maintain ecosystem function by introducing functionally redundant species to promote compensatory dynamics.