Erős, T., Sály, P., Takács, P.: Temporal variability in the spatial... (2012)

Temporal variability in the spatial and environmental determinants of functional metacommunity organization – stream fish in a human-modified landscape
Freshwater Biology 57 (9): pp. 1914–1928.

1. Quantifying the relative importance of environmental filtering versus regional spatial structuring has become an intensively studied area in the context of metacommunity ecology. However, most studies have evaluated the role of environmental and spatial processes using taxonomic data sets of single snapshot surveys.

2. Here, we examined temporal changes in patterns and possible processes behind the functional metacommunity organization of stream fishes in a human-modified landscape. Specifically, we (i) studied general changes in the functional composition of fish assemblages among 40 wadeable stream sites during a 3-year study period in the catchment area of Lake Balaton, Hungary, (ii) quantified the relative importance of spatial and environmental factors as determinants of metacommunity structure and (iii) examined temporal variability in the relative role of spatial and environmental processes for this metacommunity.

3. Partial triadic analysis showed that assemblages could be effectively ordered along a functional gradient from invertebrate consuming species dominated by the opportunistic life-history strategy, to assemblages with a diverse array of functional attributes. The analysis also revealed that functional fish assemblage structure was moderately stable among the sites between the sampling periods.

4. Despite moderate stability, variance partitioning using redundancy analyses (RDA) showed considerable temporal variability in the contribution of environmental and spatial factors to this pattern. The analyses also showed that environmental variables were, in general, more important than spatial ones in determining metacommunity structure. Of these, natural environmental variables (e.g. altitude, velocity) proved to be more influential than human-related effects (e.g. pond area, % inhabited area above the site, nutrient enrichment), even in this landscape with relatively low variation in altitude and stream size.

5. Pond area was, however, the most important human stressor variable that was positively associated with the abundance of non-native species with diverse functional attributes. The temporal variability in the relative importance of environmental and spatial factors was probably shaped by the release of non-native fish from fish ponds to the stream system during flood events.

6. To conclude, both spatial processes and environmental control shape the functional metacommunity organization of stream fish assemblages in human-modified landscapes, but their importance can vary in time. We argue, therefore, that metacommunity studies should better consider temporal variability in the ecological mechanisms (e.g. dispersal limitation, species sorting) that determine the dynamics of landscape-level community organization.