Species dispersal rates alter diversity and ecosystem stability in pond metacommunities


  • Corresponding Editor: S. P. Lawler.


Metacommunity theory suggests that relationships between diversity and ecosystem stability can be determined by the rate of species dispersal among local communities. The predicted relationships, however, may depend upon the relative strength of local environmental processes and disturbance. Here we evaluate the role of dispersal frequency and local predation perturbations in affecting patterns of diversity and stability in pond plankton metacommunities. Pond metacommunities were composed of three mesocosm communities: one of the three communities maintained constant “press” predation from a selective predator, bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus); the second community maintained “press” conditions without predation; and the third community experienced recurrent “pulsed” predation from bluegill sunfish. The triads of pond communities were connected at either no, low (0.7%/d), or high (20%/d) planktonic dispersal. Richness and composition of zooplankton and stability of plankton biomass and ecosystem productivity were measured at local and regional spatial scales. Dispersal significantly affected diversity such that local and regional biotas at the low dispersal rate maintained the greatest number of species. The unimodal local dispersal–diversity relationship was predator-dependent, however, as selective press predation excluded species regardless of dispersal. Further, there was no effect of dispersal on beta diversity because predation generated local conditions that selected for distinct community assemblages. Spatial and temporal ecosystem stability responded to dispersal frequency but not predation. Low dispersal destabilized the spatial stability of producer biomass but stabilized temporal ecosystem productivity. The results indicate that selective predation can prevent species augmentation from mass effects but has no apparent influence on stability. Dispersal rates, in contrast, can have significant effects on both species diversity and ecosystem stability at multiple spatial scales in metacommunities.