Disturbance is a central factor shaping composition, structure, and dynamics of local communities. Drying is a disturbance that occurs in aquatic ecosystems globally and can strongly influence their communities. Although the effects of drying may depend on ecosystem connectivity and the dispersal abilities of resident species, there have been no comparisons of community responses to drying between lentic and lotic ecosystems across different climates. Here, we predicted that drying would have stronger effects on aquatic communities in isolated lentic ecosystems than in dendritic lotic ecosystems, owing to the higher hydrological connectivity of the latter, and that drying would have stronger effects on passive than on active dispersers, because of the potentially higher recolonizing ability of the latter. We tested these predictions by comparing alpha diversity, phylogenetic relatedness, and beta diversity for active and passive dispersers, in both ecosystem types across five climatic regions. Drying caused greater declines in alpha diversity in lentic than in lotic ecosystems. Communities that experienced drying were more similar to one another than those of perennial sites, and this pattern was especially pronounced in lentic ecosystems. In contrast, drying did not influence the contributions of turnover and richness gradients to beta diversity. Additionally, dispersal mode did not influence community responses to drying. Relatively weaker effects of drying in lotic compared to lentic systems were likely due to the hydrological connectivity among perennial and temporary river sites, which may facilitate dispersal of organisms to escape drying and recolonize rewetted sites. Collectively, our results suggest that habitat connectivity may ameliorate (and fragmentation may worsen) the impacts of drying disturbance. This is an important finding in light of increasing drying and concomitant aquatic habitat fragmentation under global change.
Read the full article in Ecosphere.