1. The creation or severe disturbance of habitat patches is generally followed by a phase of community (re)assembly. After such an event, the trajectory of community assembly in habitat patches may be highly variable because of stochasticity during the dispersal and colonization process. Conversely, assembly patterns may also be deterministic if communities are shaped by prevalent environmental conditions in the habitat patches (species sorting), or by systematic differences in the dispersal capacities of species. 2. In this study, we investigated the pattern of community assembly of zooplankton species in 25 newly created ponds at 13 different sites in Flanders (Belgium). Over a period of three consecutive years, we assessed at what rate and with what frequency species of the regional species pool colonized the newly created ponds. We also studied the development of community structure over time and tested whether the dynamics were consistent across different ponds at the different locations. In addition, we characterized the dynamics of metacommunity features, such as alpha, beta and gamma diversity in clusters of ponds. 3. Even within the first year after their creation, the new ponds were rapidly colonized by a small subset of species from the regional species pool (Daphnia obtusa, Chydorus sphaericus and Simocephalus vetulus). These species dominated the cladoceran assemblages during the subsequent years. Other species in the regional species pools were only sporadically able to colonize ponds. 4. During the entire study period, we observed no significant shifts in species lists or in the occurrences of species among years. The low incidence of the majority of species may be the result of dispersal limitation or the failure of immigrants to establish due to priority effects exerted by the first colonizers. There was, nevertheless, a consistent change in the relative abundance of species, which was most probably mediated by differences in the hatching time among species influencing species composition in the first year. 5. In contrast to expectations, we observed no increase in average alpha diversity (local species richness) and gamma diversity (total richness of entire pond clusters) during the course of the study period. Beta diversity was relatively low from the beginning and remained constant throughout the study period. These deterministic patterns can mainly be attributed to the dominance of the three first colonizing species and the low success rate of other species in colonizing the ponds.
- beta diversity pattern Cladocera colonization dispersal settlement success succession fresh-water zooplankton species richness metacommunity structure cladoceran communities natural disturbances seasonal succession aquatic organisms dispersal diversity colonization Environmental Sciences & Ecology Marine & Freshwater Biology