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Patch size drives colonization by aquatic insects, with minor priority effects of a cohabitant


Pintar, Matthew; Scott, Reed C.; Resetarits, William J. (2022), Patch size drives colonization by aquatic insects, with minor priority effects of a cohabitant, Dryad, Dataset,


Patch size is one of the most important factors affecting the distribution and abundance of species, and recent research has shown that patch size is an important niche dimension affecting community structure in aquatic insects. Building on this result, we examined the impact of patch size in conjunction with presence of larval anurans on colonization by aquatic insects. Hyla chrysoscelis (Cope’s gray treefrog) larvae are abundant and early colonists in fishless lentic habitats, and these larvae can fill multiple ecological roles. By establishing larvae in mesocosms prior to colonization, we were able to assess if H. chrysoscelis larvae have priority effects on aquatic insect assemblages. We conducted a series of three experiments in naturally-colonized experimental landscapes to test whether (1) H. chrysoscelis larval density affects insect colonization, (2) variation in patch size affects insect colonization, and (3) the presence and larval density of H. chrysoscelis shifts colonization of insects between patches of different size. Larval density independently had almost no effect on colonization, while patch size had species-specific effects consistent with prior work. When larvae and patch size were tested in conjunction, patch size had numerous, often strong, species-specific effects on colonization; larval density had effects largely limited to the assemblages of colonizing beetles and water bugs, with few effects on individual species. Higher larval densities in large mesocosms shifted some insect colonization to smaller patches, resulting in higher beta diversity among small patches in proximity to high density large mesocosms. This indicates establishing H. chrysoscelis larvae prior to insect colonization can likely create priority effects that slightly shape insect communities. Our results support the importance of patch size in studying species abundances and distributions, and also indicate that colonization order plays an important role in determining the communities found within habitat patches.


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Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation

University of Mississippi