Local versus regional processes and the control of community structure
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The contribution of local (e.g., competition) and regional (e.g., dispersal) processes in the structure of communities remains an unresolved issue. In general, a tendency to assume local processes to be deterministic and regional to be stochastic dominates, although it is challenged. Fortunately, it can be cast as a testable proposition: if correct, the degree of determinism in the final community structure might indicate which process is more prominent in the control of community structure. However, recent findings have also suggested that stochastic patterns can arise from local processes and that dispersal can homogenize communities, which would make them appear deterministic irrespective of the mechanism involved. To evaluate these competing expectations we conducted an experiment where the initial communities had the same composition and species abundances. We hypothesized that if local processes dominate, then arrays of communities will show divergence of community structures whether connected by dispersal or not (i.e., being fully isolated). Alternatively, if regional processes dominate, the dispersal connected communities should converge while isolated ones should not. We found, however, that both groups of experimental communities showed similar patterns of change - a decline in similarity and a tendency to diverge. This suggests that biological interactions, demographic stochasticity, or both, exert noticeable control over community structure such that they reduce similarity among replicate communities and diversify their final states. We speculate that these mechanisms enhance potential for species additions, particularly in conjunction with factors such as dispersal and the size of the regional species pool.
KeywordsDeterminism Dispersal Local processes Regional processes Stochasticity
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