Martins, G.M., Arenas, F., Tuya, F., Ramírez, R., Neto, A.I. & Jenkins, S.R. (2017) Successional convergence in experimentally disturbed intertidal communities.Oecologia, Online early, . DOI:10.1007/s00442-017-4022-1 (IF2016 3,130; Q2 Ecology)
Determining the causes of variation in community assembly is a central question in ecology. Analysis of β-diversity can provide insight by relating the extent of regional to local variation in diversity, allowing inference of the relative importance of deterministic versus stochastic processes. We investigated the effects of disturbance timing on community assembly at three distinct regions with varying environmental conditions: Northern Portugal, Azores and Canaries. On the lower rocky intertidal, quadrats were experimentally cleared of biota at three distinct times of the year and community assembly followed for 1 year. Similar levels of α- and γ-diversity were found in all regions, which remained constant throughout succession. When Jaccard (incidence-based) and Bray-Curtis (abundance-based) metrics were used, β-diversity (the mean dissimilarity among plots cleared at the different times) was larger during early stages of community assembly but decreased over time. The adaptation of the Raup-Crick's metric, which accounts for changes in species richness, showed that the structure of assemblages disturbed at different times of the year was similar to the null model of random community assembly during early stages of succession but became more similar than expected by chance. This pattern was observed in all regions despite differences in the regional species pool, suggesting that priority effects are likely weak and deterministic processes determine community structure despite stochasticity during early stages of community assembly.