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Data from: Temporal variability of a single population can determine the vulnerability of communities to perturbations

Citation

Mrowicki, Robert J.; O'Connor, Nessa E.; Donohue, Ian (2016), Data from: Temporal variability of a single population can determine the vulnerability of communities to perturbations, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.kb0pq

Abstract

Many aspects of global change affect the variability of species population densities, in terms of both the magnitude and pattern of density fluctuations. However, we have limited empirical understanding of the consequences of altered temporal variability of populations, independent of changes in their mean densities, for the structure and stability of natural communities and the responses of ecosystems to additional stressors. We used a field experiment to test the effects of altered temporal variability of a single consumer species on community structure and stability. Specifically, we manipulated the temporal variability of populations of a key grazer species on temperate rocky shores (Littorina littorea), independent of their mean densities, over 12 months and measured the responses of algal communities in terms of multiple measures of structure and stability. Further, we tested whether consumer variability determined the effects of an additional perturbation, elevated sedimentation, on algal communities. The effects of sedimentation on the structure and stability of algal communities were regulated by the temporal variability of consumer populations. In particular, elevated sedimentation led to a decrease in algal evenness, but only when consumer densities were held constant, and resulted in a decrease in the rate of local algal extinctions, but only when consumer temporal variability was increased. Independent of sedimentation, increased temporal variability of consumer populations led to a shift in algal assemblage structure and affected the stability of algal communities in terms of both compositional turnover and resistance to environmental perturbations. Further, these effects varied according to the temporal pattern of consumer density fluctuations. Synthesis. Our results demonstrate that changes in the temporal variability of a single species can modify multiple aspects of both the structure and stability of natural communities and alter their responses to perturbations. However, the effects of consumer variability cannot be predicted without knowledge of the temporal pattern of density fluctuations. These findings have profound implications for our understanding of the effects of multiple disturbances on ecosystems.

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