, Volume 145, Issue 1, pp 140–152 | Cite as

Disturbance frequency and community structure in a twenty-five year intervention study

  • Joel C. Trexler
  • William F. Loftus
  • Sue Perry
Community ecology


Models of community regulation commonly incorporate gradients of disturbance inversely related to the role of biotic interactions in regulating intermediate trophic levels. Higher trophic-level organisms are predicted to be more strongly limited by intermediate levels of disturbance than are the organisms they consume. We used a manipulation of the frequency of hydrological disturbance in an intervention analysis to examine its effects on small-fish communities in the Everglades, USA. From 1978 to 2002, we monitored fishes at one long-hydroperiod (average 350 days) and at one short-hydroperiod (average 259 days; monitoring started here in 1985) site. At a third site, managers intervened in 1985 to diminish the frequency and duration of marsh drying. By the late 1990s, the successional dynamics of density and relative abundance at the intervention site converged on those of the long-hydroperiod site. Community change was manifested over 3 to 5 years following a dry-down if a site remained inundated; the number of days since the most recent drying event and length of the preceding dry period were useful for predicting population dynamics. Community dissimilarity was positively correlated with the time since last dry. Community dynamics resulted from change in the relative abundance of three groups of species linked by life-history responses to drought. Drought frequency and intensity covaried in response to hydrological manipulation at the landscape scale; community-level successional dynamics converged on a relatively small range of species compositions when drought return-time extended beyond 4 years. The density of small fishes increased with diminution of drought frequency, consistent with disturbance-limited community structure; less-frequent drying than experienced in this study (i.e., longer return times) yields predator-dominated regulation of small-fish communities in some parts of the Everglades.


BACI Community regulation Disturbance Hydroperiod Succession Wetland 



The data reported here were collected over many years by a large number of people. We especially acknowledge (in the order of their service) Scott Voorhees, David Tomey, Jane Schmidt, Todd Steiner, Jim Chapman, Anne-Marie Eklund, Sonny Bass, Lori Oberhofer, Jason Osborne, Eric Nelson, and Jeff Kline. Eric Nelson, Victoria Foster, and Carl Ruetz were especially helpful in data management and manipulation. Special thanks go to Tom Philippi, who provided critical assistance on the analyses of these data, and the Trexler lab (especially Nathan Dorn, Jennifer Rehage, and Charles Goss) for comments on the manuscript. While working on this project, Trexler was funded by cooperative Agreement CA5280–8-9003 between Everglades National Park and Florida International University and National Science Foundation grant number 99–10514 for Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (FCE-LTER). Loftus and Perry were supported by base funds from the Everglades National Park and USGS. This is publication no. 253 of the Southeast Environmental Research Center at FIU and 93 of the tropical biology program at FIU.

Supplementary material

442_2005_94_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (34 kb)
Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel C. Trexler
    • 1
  • William F. Loftus
    • 2
  • Sue Perry
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.US Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science CenterCenter for Water and Restoration StudiesHomesteadUSA
  3. 3.South Florida Natural Resources CenterHomesteadUSA

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