SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Community assembly rules theory attempt to understand the processes that determine the composition of local communities from a regional species pool. Nestedness and negative co-occurrence are two of the most commonly reported meta-community patterns, but almost exclusively from terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Here we analyzed the structure of species coexistence in six datasets containing presence/absence data for 120 marine benthic gastropod species in 249 sampling units on the Uruguayan continental shelf and Río de la Plata estuary. The ecological features of this system, such as the idiosyncratic nature of the biogeographic and oceanographic realms, are clearly different from those observed in other systems previously targeted by studies on coexistence structure. Community patterns were evaluated using null models and four structure indices. The existence of patterns in community assembly, and in particular segregated co-occurrence, was verified only when analyzing the number of checkerboard units (CH index). This indicates more mutually exclusive species pairs than expected by chance. Nestedness, on the other hand, was not detected in any dataset. Storage and rescue effects related to overall high immigration and low local extinction rates are plausible mechanisms to account for the general pattern of random species coexistence, while the segregated co-occurrence pattern depicted by the CH index may be related to differential habitat requirements within species pairs. Our study highlights the importance of analyzing metacommunity structures in alternative biological, environmental, and historical contexts in order to advance on the construction of a general ecological theory, relating patterns with the processes dominating in particular ecosystems.