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A basic community dynamics experiment: disentangling deterministic and stochastic processes in structuring ecological communities
  • Mark Jewell,
  • Graham Bell
Mark Jewell
McGill University
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Graham Bell
McGill University, Canada
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Community dynamics are governed by two opposed processes: species sorting, which produces deterministic dynamics leading to an equilibrium state, and ecological drift, which produces stochastic dynamics. Despite a great deal of theoretical and empirical work aiming to demonstrate the predominance of one or the other of these processes, the importance of drift in structuring communities and maintaining species diversity remains contested. Here we present the results of a basic community dynamics experiment using floating aquatic plants, designed to measure the relative contributions of species sorting, ecological drift to community change over about a dozen generations. We found that species sorting became overwhelmingly dominant as the experiment progressed, and directed communities towards a stable equilibrium state maintained by negative frequency-dependent selection. The dynamics of any particular species depended on how far its initial frequency was from its equilibrium frequency, however, and consequently the balance of sorting and drift varied among species.