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Manipulation of local environment produces different diversity outcomes depending on location within a river network


Ecologists have long been interested in mechanisms governing community composition and assembly. Spatial connectivity is one potential mechanism that can have a large influence on community processes. In accordance with network metrics such as closeness and betweenness, headwater streams are more isolated than mainstem streams. Theory and observational studies predict that community structure in isolated locations of dispersal networks should respond more strongly to manipulations of local conditions, whereas well-connected communities subject to high levels of dispersal should not respond strongly to local manipulations. We experimentally investigated this prediction by manipulating habitat complexity in headwaters and mainstem streams while monitoring macroinvertebrate communities through time. As predicted, the manipulation of local habitat had a stronger influence in headwaters than mainstreams. Both taxon richness and community similarity showed strong responses to alterations in habitat complexity in headwaters, but not in mainstem streams. These findings support the hypothesis that location within a dispersal network affects the relative importance of local and regional factors in structuring the local communities within a spatially structured metacommunity. In addition, our results suggest that conservation strategies need to account for the possibility that the relative importance of local and regional drivers of community composition and assembly can vary spatially.

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We would like to thank Max Girsheviskey, Charles Wahl, Dan Caro, and Brent Warner for their help with this experiment. In addition, Katlyn Amos Catron was invaluable for her assistance with GIS. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB-1202932).

Author information

BMT, CMS, and BLB jointly designed the study. BMT and BLB performed the research. BMT wrote the manuscript with feedback from CMS and BLB.

Correspondence to Brett M. Tornwall.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Joel Trexler.

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Tornwall, B.M., Swan, C.M. & Brown, B.L. Manipulation of local environment produces different diversity outcomes depending on location within a river network. Oecologia 184, 663–674 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3891-7

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  • Dendritic
  • Stream
  • Macroinvertebrate
  • Metacommunity
  • Dispersal