Population synchrony decreases with richness and increases with environmental fluctuations in an experimental metacommunity
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Fluctuations of local but connected populations may show correlation or synchrony whenever they experience significant dispersal or correlated environmental biotic and abiotic variability. Synchrony may be an important variable in multispecies systems, but its nature and implications have not been explicitly examined. Because the number of locally coexisting species (richness) affects the population variability of community members, we manipulated richness under different regimes of environmental fluctuation (EF). We predicted that the temporal synchrony of populations in a species should decline with increasing richness of the metacommunity they live in. Additionally, we predicted that specialist species that are sensitive to a specific environmental factor would show higher synchronization when EF increases. We thus created experimental communities with varied richness, EF, and species specialization to examine the synchronizing effects of these factors on three aquatic invertebrate species. We created four levels of richness and three levels of EF by manipulating the salinity of the culture media. Monocultures exhibited higher population synchrony than metacommunities of 2-4 species. Furthermore, we found that species responded differently to EF treatments: high EF enhanced population synchrony for the specialist and intermediate species, but not for the generalist species. Our findings emphasize that the magnitude of EF and species richness both contribute to determine population synchrony, and importantly, our results suggest that biotic diversity may actually stabilize metacommunities by disrupting synchrony.
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