Dispersal and metacommunity dynamics in a soft-sediment benthic system : how well is the seafloor connected?
Valanko, Sebastian (2012-12-19)
Åbo Akademi University
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Connectivity depends on rates of dispersal between communities. For marine soft-sediment communities continued small-scale dispersal as post-larvae and as adults can be equally important in maintaining community composition, as initial recruitment of substrate by pelagic larvae. In this thesis post-larval dispersal strategies of benthic invertebrates, as well as mechanisms by which communities are connected were investigated. Such knowledge on dispersal is scarce, due to the difficulties in actually measuring dispersal directly in nature, and dispersal has not previously been quantified in the Baltic Sea. Different trap-types were used underwater to capture dispersing invertebrates at different sites, while in parallel measuring waves and currents. Local community composition was found to change predictably under varying rates of dispersal and physical connectivity (waves and currents). This response was, however, dependent on dispersal-related traits of taxa. Actively dispersing taxa will be relatively better at maintaining their position, as they are not as dependent on hydrodynamic conditions for dispersal and will be less prone to be passively transported by currents. Taxa also dispersed in relative proportions that were distinctly different from resident community composition and a significant proportion (40 %) of taxa were found to lack a planktonic larval life-stage. Community assembly was re-started in a large-scale manipulative field experiment over one year across several sites, which revealed how patterns of community composition (α-, β- and λ-diversity) change depending on rates of dispersal. Results also demonstrated that in response to small-scale disturbance, initial recruitment was by nearby-dominant species after which other species arrived from successively further away. At later assembly time, the number of coexisting species increased beyond what was expected purely by local niche requirements (species sorting), transferring regional differences in community composition (β-diversity) to the local scale (α-diversity, mass effect). Findings of this thesis complement more theoretical studies in metacommunity ecology by demonstrating that understanding how and when individuals disperse relative to underlying environmental heterogeneity is key to interpreting how patterns of diversity change across different spatial scales. Such information from nature is critical when predicting responses to, for example, different types of disturbances or management actions in conservation.