The joint spatial and temporal fluctuations in community structure may be due to dispersal, variation in environmental conditions, ecological heterogeneity among species and demographic stochasticity. These factors are not mutually exclusive, and their relative contribution towards shaping species abundance distributions and in causing species fluctuations have been hard to disentangle. To better understand community dynamics when the exchange of individuals between localities is very low, we studied the dynamics of the freshwater zooplankton communities in 17 lakes located in independent catchment areas, sampled at end of summer from 2002 to 2008 in Norway. We analysed the joint spatial and temporal fluctuations in the community structure by fitting the two-dimensional Poisson lognormal model under a two-stage sampling scheme. We partitioned the variance of the distribution of log abundance for a random species at a random time and location into components of demographic stochasticity, ecological heterogeneity among species, and independent environmental noise components for the different species. Non-neutral mechanisms such as ecological heterogeneity among species (20%) and spatiotemporal variation in the environment (75%) explained the majority of the variance in log abundances. Overdispersion relative to Poisson sampling and demographic stochasticity had a small contribution to the variance (5%). Among a set of environmental variables, lake acidity was the environmental variable that was most strongly related to decay of community similarity in space and time.