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Convergence in floodplain pond communities indicates different pathways to community assembly

Disturbance can strongly influence ecosystems, yet much remains unknown about the relative importance of key processes (selection, drift, and dispersal) in the recovery of ecological communities following disturbance. We combined field surveys with a field experiment to elucidate mechanisms governing the recovery of aquatic macroinvertebrates in habitats of an alluvial floodplain following flood disturbance. We monitored macroinvertebrates in 24 natural parafluvial habitats over 60 days after a major flood, as well as the colonization of 24 newly-built ponds by macroinvertebrates over 45 days in the same floodplain. We examined the sources of environmental variation and their relative effects on aquatic assemblages using a combination of null models and Mantel tests. We also used a joint species distribution model to investigate the importance of primary metacommunity structuring processes during recovery: selection, dispersal, and drift. Contrary to expectations, we found that beta diversity actually decreased among natural habitats over time after the flood or the creation of the ponds, instead of increasing. This result was despite environmental predictors showing contrasting patterns for explaining community variation over time in the natural habitats compared with the experimental ponds. Flood heterogeneity across the floodplain and spatial scale differences between the experimental ponds and the natural habitats seemingly constrained the balance between deterministic and stochastic processes driving the ecological convergence of assemblages over time. While environmental selection was the dominant structuring process in both groups, biotic interactions also had a prominent influence on community assembly. These findings have profound implications towards understanding metacommunity structuring in riverscapes that includes common linkages between disturbance heterogeneity, spatial scale properties, and community composition.
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© The Author(s) 2023. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.