Metacommmunities and patterns of diversity in chemosynthetic ecosystems

Over the past decade, metacommunity ecology has been used to examine mechanisms influencing community assembly and the maintenance of biodiversity in patchy communities. This framework is suited to consideration of both local interactions and environmental influences within communities, and spatial processes such as dispersal that link patches across space. Chemosynthetic ecosystems are patchy and hierarchical in nature and fit well into this conceptual metacommunity framework. We have repeated substrate colonization experiments at methane seeps off Costa Rica and Oregon, and hydrothermal vents at Juan de Fuca, and here, we use them as case studies to address the following questions:

  1. Do metacommunity dynamics act similarly across distinct chemosynthetic settings?
  2. Do particular metacommunity models appear especially relevant to certain microhabitats (substrate type, fluid environment) or taxonomic groups within chemosynthetic ecosystems?
  3. Do dominant taxa tend to conform to hypothesized distributions based on particular metacommunity perspectives?

By quantifying patterns of species colonization after one to three years, and contrasting them with those from natural background substrates, we will describe the dominant metacommunity models that appear to describe patterns of community assembly and biodiversity for these case studies. For example, where ranked species abundance of colonization substrates mirrors that of background substrates, we suggest that niches are being filled in a regular way to create similar assemblages (i.e. Species Sorting). However, when ranked abundance of colonization substrates is opposite to that of background substrates, we may presume that Patch Dynamics are at play, and different species dominate the community depending on the current stage of succession. While no one metacommmunity perspective (which also include Mass Effects and the Neutral model) is intended to be acting alone in a particular system, this framework allows us to compare the relative importance of spatial, environmental, and biological processes that may be acting to generate and maintain diversity in chemosynthetic habitats.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography
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Distribution and abundance
Ecological Interactions
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