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Keywords:

  • dispersal;
  • ecological stressors;
  • ecosystem function;
  • metacommunity;
  • salinization

Summary

1. Climate change and other human-driven environmental perturbations are causing reductions in biodiversity and impacting the functioning of ecosystems on a global scale. Metacommunity theory suggests that ecosystem connectivity may reduce the magnitude of these impacts if the regional species pool contains functionally redundant species that differ in their environmental tolerances. Dispersal may increase the resistance of local ecosystems to environmental stress by providing regional species with traits adapted to novel conditions.

2. We tested this theory by subjecting freshwater zooplankton communities in mesocosms that were either connected to or isolated from the larger regional species pool to a factorial manipulation of experimental warming and increased salinity.

3. Compensation by regional taxa depended on the source of stress. Warming tolerant regional taxa partially compensated for reductions in heat sensitive local taxa but similar compensation did not occur under increased salinity.

4. Dispersal-mediated species invasions dampened the effects of warming on summer net ecosystem productivity. However, this buffering effect did not occur in the fall or for periphyton growth, the only other ecosystem function affected by the stress treatments.

5. The results indicate that regional biodiversity can provide insurance in a dynamic environment but that the buffering capacity is limited to some ecosystem processes and sources of stress. Maintaining regional biodiversity and habitat connectivity may therefore provide some limited insurance for local ecosystems in changing environments, but is unable to impart resistance against all sources of environmental stress.