Contrasting metacommunity structure and beta diversity in an aquatic-floodplain system


Habitat connectivity and dispersal interact to structure metacommunities, but few studies have examined these patterns jointly for organisms across the aquatic-terrestrial ecotone. We assessed metacommunity structure and beta diversity patterns of instream benthic invertebrates, riparian carabid beetles (Order: Coleoptera; Family: Carabidae) and riparian spiders (Order: Araneae) at fifteen sites in a river-floodplain system. Sampling took place over a three-year period (2010-2012) in the Rhine-Main-Observatory LTER site on the Kinzig River, central Germany. This allowed disentangling the combined influence, and temporal variability, of habitat connectivity (i.e. between aquatic and terrestrial) and dispersal ability (i.e. between spiders and beetles, and aerial and aquatic dispersing invertebrates) on the dominant paradigms structuring these metacommunities. We found mostly consistent differences in the manner that metacommunities were structured between groups, with lower levels of variability explained for beetles compared to the other groups. Beetles were consistently structured more by turnover than nestedness components, with greater beta diversity than expected by chance and a minor spatial compared to environmental signal emerging with variance partitioning. Conversely, spiders and benthic invertebrates had lower beta diversity and greater nestedness than null expectation, and a clearer spatial signal controlling metacommunity structure. Our results suggest varying levels of mass effects and species sorting shape river-floodplain metacommunities, depending on habitat connectivity and dispersal ability. That is, greater connectivity and lower fragmentation along the river compared to the terrestrial zone promoted mass effects, and differences in overall dispersal ability and mode (i.e. active and passive) for instream and riparian communities shifted paradigms between mass effects and species sorting.

Jonathan D. Tonkin
Senior Lecturer & Rutherford Discovery Fellow