Exploring stream communities in a tropical biodiversity hotspot: Biodiversity, regional occupancy, niche characteristics and environmental correlates


Exploring and describing biodiversity and the mechanisms structuring it is fundamental to advancing ecology. This is particularly pertinent in understudied biogeographical regions, such as the Afrotropics, that are characterised by strong seasonal climatic shifts. We investigated the characteristics of stream biodiversity in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, a tropical biodiversity hotspot, by examining patterns in 20 stream invertebrate communities across both the wet and dry seasons. For this, we took a multi-faceted approach accounting for the three levels of biodiversity ($α$, $β$ and $γ$), including partitioning the nestedness and turnover components of $β$ diversity, regional occupancy-abundance patterns, niche characteristics, and the environmental drivers of community structure. $α$ diversity was low in these streams, with strong turnover between sites leading to high $β$ diversity contributing to regional biodiversity, but there was little variation in communities between seasons. The proportion of sites occupied by taxa declined with increasing niche position, and decreasing niche breadth. Occupancy was predicted well by a combination of these two factors (niche position and breadth), but not mean local abundance, as the abundance-occupancy link was an upper-limit unimodal relationship. On average, community structure was linked more strongly to environmental variables in the wet season. Our findings demonstrate the clear role of spatial, but not temporal, turnover in assemblages, which likely reflects the environmental heterogeneity of this region. This is further supported by the fact that regional occupancy was mostly related to niche characteristics, particularly niche position. We emphasise the importance of continued basic and applied ecological work in this important biogeographic region to enable better protection of its biodiversity.

Biodiversity and Conservation
Jonathan D. Tonkin
Senior Lecturer & Rutherford Discovery Fellow