Disentangling the roles of diversity resistance and priority effects in community assembly
The assembly of many biological communities is constrained by the resistance exerted by resident species to immigration (biotic resistance). Two important mechanisms contribute to the generation of biotic resistance: diversity resistance and priority effects. These mechanisms have been explored through theoretical models and laboratory experiments, but the importance of their interplay in the assembly of natural communities remains untested. We used a mesocosm experiment with communities of aquatic plants and zooplankton assembled from natural propagule banks to test whether and how diversity resistance, mediated by the diversity of the resident community, and priority effects, mediated by the timing of immigrants’ arrival, affect the establishment of immigrant species and community diversity. In plant communities, immigration success decreased with increasing resident-species richness (diversity resistance) and arrival time (priority effects). Further, diversity resistance was stronger in communities colonized later in the season, indicating that these mechanisms interacted to reinforce biotic resistance. This interaction ultimately determined species richness and beta-diversity in plant communities. For zooplankton, in contrast, neither the diversity of resident communities nor the time of arrival affected the establishment of immigrant species. In these communities, beta-diversity was explained by species sorting, namely biotic effects mediated by plant assemblages. Our results show that the progressive buildup of communities generates an interaction between diversity resistance and priority effects that eventually determines community diversity, unless species sorting mediated by environmental filtering supersedes the effect of biotic resistance. Therefore, disentangling the mechanisms underlying biotic resistance contributes to understand how species diversity is ultimately determined.