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Isolation predicts compositional change after discrete disturbances in a global meta‐study

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Globally, anthropogenic disturbances are occurring at unprecedented rates and over extensive spatial and temporal scales. Human activities also affect natural disturbances, prompting shifts in their timing and intensities. Thus, there is an urgent need to understand and predict the response of ecosystems to disturbance. In this study, we investigated whether there are general determinants of community response to disturbance across different community types, locations, and disturbance events. We compiled 14 case studies of community response to disturbance from four continents, twelve aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem types, and eight different types of disturbance. We used community compositional differences and species richness to indicate community response. We used mixed‐effects modeling to test the relationship between each of these response metrics and four potential explanatory factors: regional species pool size, isolation, number of generations passed, and relative disturbance intensity. We found that compositional similarity was higher between pre‐ and post‐disturbance communities when the disturbed community was connected to adjacent undisturbed habitat. The number of generations that had passed since the disturbance event was a significant, but weak, predictor of community compositional change; two communities were responsible for the observed relationship. We found no significant relationships between the factors we tested and changes in species richness. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to search for general drivers of community resilience from a diverse set of case studies. The strength of the relationship between compositional change and isolation suggests that it may be informative in resilience research and biodiversity management.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2017

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