Community Assembly: When Should History Matter?

Oecologia. 2003 Aug;136(4):489-98. doi: 10.1007/s00442-003-1311-7. Epub 2003 Jun 26.


Community assembly provides a conceptual foundation for understanding the processes that determine which and how many species live in a particular locality. Evidence suggests that community assembly often leads to a single stable equilibrium, such that the conditions of the environment and interspecific interactions determine which species will exist there. In such cases, regions of local communities with similar environmental conditions should have similar community composition. Other evidence suggests that community assembly can lead to multiple stable equilibria. Thus, the resulting community depends on the assembly history, even when all species have access to the community. In these cases, a region of local communities with similar environmental conditions can be very dissimilar in their community composition. Both regional and local factors should determine the patterns by which communities assemble, and the resultant degree of similarity or dissimilarity among localities with similar environments. A single equilibrium in more likely to be realized in systems with small regional species pools, high rates of connectance, low productivity and high disturbance. Multiple stable equilibria are more likely in systems with large regional species pools, low rates of connectance, high productivity and low disturbance. I illustrate preliminary evidence for these predictions from an observational study of small pond communities, and show important effects on community similarity, as well as on local and regional species richness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Food Chain*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Water Supply