Studies on the dynamics of ecosystems undergoing restoration are needed to verify whether they are following the expected trajectory, developing in unexpected ways, or becoming stabilized in a non desirable intermediate stage of blocked succession. In order to elucidate the successional trajectory of the plant community in a 20 ha patch of riparian Atlantic Forest (southeastern Brazil) undergoing restoration, we assessed native tree and shrub species regenerating at 18, 28 and 38 years after planting. We analyzed changes in floristic composition and proportions of functional traits, by comparison with the set of 166 species originally planted most of which were non-native, and with the plant assemblages of two reference riparian ecosystems — a primary-type and a secondary forest, in the same eco-region. Despite isolation from extant forests, immigrating native species have enriched and dominated the community undergoing restoration. Thus, the floristic composition and the proportions of species among functional guilds is becoming more distinct through time from the set of species planted and more similar to the nearest secondary forest (1.6 km), but is still dramatically different from that of a primary forest 50 km away. The proportions of functional guilds among individuals regenerating have shown stability over time but differ in general from the primary forest, particularly for the higher proportion of zoochorous plants in the forest undergoing restoration. The proportion of non-native species as well as of individuals of these species in the community have decreased over time, even though they were the majority of the species planted, refuting the hypothesis of priority effect driving the community assembly.
We examine literature on flooding as a disturbance on both sessile and mobile organisms. The limitations and assumptions of the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis (IDH) are identified and examined. We conclude that research on plants supports the IDH. In contrast, mobile invertebrates and vertebrates rarely support the hypothesis. Therefore, we strongly encourage investigators to consider explanations beyond the IDH when explaining community dynamics following floods.
The metacommunity perspective has substantially advanced our understanding of how local (within community) and dispersal (between community) processes influence the assembly of communities. The increased recognition of dispersal processes makes it necessary to re-evaluate former views on community organization in different ecological systems and for specific organisms. Stream systems have long been considered from a linear perspective, in which local community organization was examined along the longitudinal profile, from source to mouth. However, the hierarchically branching (i.e. dendritic) structure of stream networks also significantly affects both local and regional scale community organization, which has just only recently been fully recognized by ecologists. In this review, I examine how the shift from a strictly linear to a dendritic network perspective influenced the thinking about the organization of fish metacommunities in stream networks. I argue that while longitudinal patterns in the structure of fish communities are relatively well known, knowledge is still limited about how the structure of the stream network ultimately affects the spatial and temporal dynamics of metacommunities. I suggest that scaling metapopulation models up to the metacommunity level can be useful to further our understanding of the spatial structure of metacommunities. However, this requires the delineation of local communities and the quantification of the contribution of dispersal to local community dynamics. Exploring patterns in diversity, spatial distribution and temporal dynamics of metacommunities is not easily feasible in continuous stream habitats, where some parts of the habitat network are exceptionally hard to sample representatively. Combination of detailed field studies with modelling of dispersal is necessary for a better understanding of metacommunity dynamics in stream networks. Since most metacommunity level processes are likely to happen at the stream network level, further research on the effects of stream network structure is needed. Overall, separation of the effect of dispersal processes from local scale community dynamics may yield a more mechanistic understanding of the assembly of fish communities in stream networks, which may also enhance the effectiveness of restoration efforts.
Similarity between seed bank and aboveground vegetation is frequently studied in order to better understand how community composition is affected by factors such as disturbance and succession. Grassland plant communities are known to be sensitive to shifts in precipitation and increases in temperature associated with climate change, but we do not know if and how these factors interact to affect the similarity between seed bank and aboveground vegetation. Also unknown is how the impact of grazing, the dominant land-use in grasslands, will interact with climatic conditions to affect similarity. We manipulated precipitation and temperature, and cut vegetation (as a proxy for grazing) at a grassland site for three years. Percent cover of aboveground vegetation was estimated in the third year, and compared with persistent seed bank samples taken in the year prior from the same plots. Similarity increased with reduced precipitation, was unresponsive to warming, and decreased with clipping. The aboveground community responded strongly to the treatments, while the seed bank community did less so, suggesting similarity responses were largely driven by changes in aboveground vegetation. Because of the importance of the seed bank in vegetation regeneration, understanding the relationship between seed bank and aboveground vegetation will improve our understanding of plant community dynamics under climate change and varied management (grazing) intensities.
Network models are traditional in community ecology. For example, they provide a rich analytical toolkit to put higher predators into a multispecies context. Better understanding their top-down effects and the potential bottom-up control on them would be of key importance for predictive ecosystem management. Food web architecture may be used to predict community dynamics, but it is an old question how reliable are the studies considering only static information. A general and intuitive assumption is that stronger links (with larger weights) mediate stronger effects. We study this statement and use an illustrative case study. We investigate the trophic structure of the Prince William Sound food web in terms of biomass flows, and study its simulated dynamics in a stochastic modelling framework. We aim to understand bottom-up effects of preys on consumers: we focus on the fluctuations of top predator populations, following disturbance on their prey. Several disturbance regimes are studied and compared. Food web structure and link weight generally predict well the average impacts of preys on top-predators, with larger flows mediating stronger effects. Most exceptions appear for weak links: these are less predictable, some of them can be surprisingly important.
Fire is a constitutive ecological force in savanna ecosystems, but few studies have monitored its short-term effects on plant community dynamics. This study investigated changes in plant diversity in the South American savanna (Cerrado) after severe disturbance by fire. We monitored 30 permanent plots (10 m × 5 m) distributed in two Cerrado physiognomies (típico: more forested; ralo: grass-dominated), being 10 plots in the area disturbed by fire, and five in a preserved control area (undisturbed). From August 2010 to June 2011, we evaluated changes in species richness, abundance and composition of savanna vegetation. Monitoring started one week after the fire; disturbed plots were surveyed monthly, while control plots were surveyed every two months. We observed rapid reassembling in both physiognomies: plots affected by fire showed rapid increase in species richness and plant density during the first four months after the disturbance. Concerning species composition, disturbed plots in the cerrado típico tended to converge to control plots after one year, but each local assemblage followed particular temporal trajectories. A different pattern characterized cerrado ralo plots, which showed heterogeneous trajectories and lack of convergence between disturbed and control plots; the structure of these assemblages will likely change in next years. In conclusion, our results showed that fire significantly affected plant diversity in the two savanna physiognomies (cerrado típico and ralo), but also indicated that community reassembling is fast, with different dynamics between Cerrado physiognomies.
Hubbell (2001) proposes that random demographic processes (i.e., neutral dynamics) can explain observed levels of variation in the richness and abundance of species within and among communities. Hubbell's neutral models have drawn attention because they reproduce several characteristic features of natural communities. But neutral models are criticized for ignoring nonrandom processes known to cause species densities to fluctuate. We parameterized neutral models using the population counts of 64 species of aquatic invertebrates collected from 49 discrete rock pools over a 13 year period.We used Hubbell's numerical modeling approach to evaluate the effect of natural population fluctuations on the parameter settings. We also analyzed the effect of observed variation on the species proportional abundance predicted by neutral models. We find that observed levels of variation in abundance are much higher than predicted by neutral models, forcing estimates of themigration probability, m, and fundamental biodiversity parameter, ?, to fluctuateover time. Much of the observed variation is mediated by predator-prey interactions. Low predator densities are associated with fewer species and less even relative abundances of species, resulting in lower estimates of m and ? comparedto periods of high predator densities. Our results show that by assuming an identical survival probability for all species, neutral models misrepresent substantial aspects of community dynamics.
In order to better understand the factors governing community assembly on riverine islands, we conducted a greenhouse experiment that examined the effects of species interactions in combination with flooding that mimicked hydrologic gradients found on Mississippi River islands. Specifically, we examined the effects of inter and intra-specific competition and three disturbance treatments (drained, drought, and flood) on the growth performance of three island-ubiquitous herbaceous plant species (Amaranthus palmeri, Cyperus strigosus, and Xanthium strumarium). We predicted a decrease in interspecific competitive effects in disturbance treatments. Specifically, we expected A. palmeri to be most affected by flooding treatment based on its facultative upland status suggesting that it should be a poor tolerator of flooded conditions. X. strumarium and C. strigosus both facultative wetland species in their status, should tolerate flooding, but we predict that C. strigosus should have greater stress tolerance due to its perennial life history. Because we find these species coexisting at the same elevation zones on riverine islands, we also predicted stronger intraspecific competition effects. Our results indicate that disturbance indeed affected competitive interactions, but the effects were species-specific. X. strumarium showed stronger competitive effects when grown with conspecifics while C. strigosus experienced greater competition with heterospecifics under drought treatments. Based on its wetland indicator status and life history characteristics, we expected A. palmeri to exhibit a facilitative effect, as it is typically an upland species, but instead it was impacted most by interspecific competition. Our study indicates that factors other than competition, facilitation, and flood tolerance (e.g., priority effects) may be controlling island plant community dynamics, further studies are required.
Forest biomes have expanded and contracted in response to past climate fluctuations, but it is not clear how they will respond to human-induced atmospheric change. We provide a review of the literature, describing historical links between biogeographical and atmospheric patterns, comparing characteristics of forest biomes and describing expected changes in climate forcings from observed range shifts. Over the geological history, climate fluctuations prompted changes in forest distribution that, in turn, stabilized the atmosphere. Over the past century, warming-induced stress has caused widespread declines of mature forests, but new forests have expanded into open areas of boreal, tropical and temperate regions. Historically, forest expansion happened at much faster rates in cold than in warm regions. Across biomes, species interactions control the use of limiting resources, regulating community dynamics and expansion rates in response to climate variability. Modern impacts of land use change on the distribution of forest biomes are well understood, but the expansion of new forests and their role in stabilizing the atmosphere are yet to be accounted for in global models. Expansion of tropical and temperate forests would yield a negative climate forcing through increased carbon sequestration and evaporative cooling, but in the boreal region forest expansion could amplify climate warming due to changes in albedo. Although qualitative descriptions of forest-atmosphere interactions are possible based on existing records, the net climate forcing from forest range shifts remains uncertain. Three critical gaps in knowledge hinder rigorous evaluations of causality necessary to probe for linkages between climatic and biogeographical patterns: (i) reconstructions of vegetation dynamics have not sufficiently represented warm biomes; (ii) climate and vegetation dynamics are typically assessed at non-comparable scales; and (iii) single-proxies are normally used to simultaneously infer changes in climate and vegetation distribution, leading to redundancy in interpretation. Addressing these issues would improve our ability to decipher past and predict future outcomes of forest-atmosphere interactions.