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Predators temper the relative importance of stochastic processes in the assembly of prey metacommunities


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Communities assemble through a combination of stochastic processes, which can make environmentally similar communities divergent (high β-diversity), and deterministic processes, which can make environmentally similar communities convergent (low β-diversity). Top predators can influence both stochasticity (e.g. colonization and extinction events) and determinism (e.g. size of the realized species pool), in community assembly, and thus their net effect is unknown. We investigated how predatory fish influenced the scaling of prey diversity in ponds at local and regional spatial scales. While fish reduced both local and regional richness, their effects were markedly more intense at the regional scale. Underlying this result was that the presence of fish made localities within metacommunities more similar in their community composition (lower β-diversity), suggesting that fish enhance the deterministic, relative to the stochastic, components of community assembly. Thus, the presence of predators can alter fundamental mechanisms of community assembly and the scaling of diversity within metacommunities.