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  • 1 Department of Ecology Climatology and Air Protection, University of Agriculture, Krakow, Poland
  • | 2 Department of Entomology, Phytopathology and Molecular Diagnostic, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Prawochenskiego 17, 10-687 Olsztyn, Poland
  • | 3 Institute of Biology, Jan Kochanowski University of Kielce, Poland
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Over the last 30 years there has been a great deal of interest in investigating patterns of species co-occurrence across space and time, which may be shaped by interspecific competition for shared resources. A good model of co-occurrence mechanisms is developed among predatory animals along a pollution gradient, where shared resources become more limited in more contaminated areas and the energy budget for detoxification is much higher. Community disassembly by heavy metal pollution may occur when the presence of toxic elements shifts patterns of species co-occurrence from structured to random. On the other hand, limited resources on a pollution gradient should lead to higher competition between dominant species. Disassembly may entail the loss of existing co-evolved interactions among species, which has ramifications for community dynamics and the quality of the functioning of polluted ecosystems. We expect an assemblage dominated by competitive species interactions to exhibit a significant segregation of taxa, whereas one dominated by mutualistic or syntrophic interactions would exhibit an aggregation of taxa. Responses of Carabidae co-occurrence patterns and changes in body size measures to heavy metal concentrations were investigated in a zinc contamination gradient in a Scots pine forest in the vicinity of Olkusz (southern Poland), at 12 study sites. The zinc concentration in the humus layer varied between 108 mg kg-1 dw to 6150 mg kg-1 dw. We used the C-score index, between all possible species pairs in a matrix. The ground beetle assemblages from the reference sites showed a significant segregation pattern. Community disassembly occurred only among assemblages in heavily polluted sites. The average value of skewness and kurtosis were significantly higher in the highly contaminated sites, indicating the greater proportion of small-bodied species in contaminated areas. The Gini coefficient was highest in the low contaminated sites, indicating the body-size inequality of carabid assemblages was greatest in the uncontaminated areas. Our data suggest that increased pollution contributes to the extinction of sensitive forest specialists with large body size and higher competitive abilities, leading to replacement by less sensitive generalists, with smaller body size and that the co-occurrence of species on heavily polluted sites is a result of unstable interactions between species in communities.

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