Disturbance frequency and community structure in a twenty-five year intervention study

Oecologia. 2005 Aug;145(1):140-52. doi: 10.1007/s00442-005-0094-4.


Models of community regulation commonly incorporate gradients of disturbance inversely related to the role of biotic interactions in regulating intermediate trophic levels. Higher trophic-level organisms are predicted to be more strongly limited by intermediate levels of disturbance than are the organisms they consume. We used a manipulation of the frequency of hydrological disturbance in an intervention analysis to examine its effects on small-fish communities in the Everglades, USA. From 1978 to 2002, we monitored fishes at one long-hydroperiod (average 350 days) and at one short-hydroperiod (average 259 days; monitoring started here in 1985) site. At a third site, managers intervened in 1985 to diminish the frequency and duration of marsh drying. By the late 1990s, the successional dynamics of density and relative abundance at the intervention site converged on those of the long-hydroperiod site. Community change was manifested over 3 to 5 years following a dry-down if a site remained inundated; the number of days since the most recent drying event and length of the preceding dry period were useful for predicting population dynamics. Community dissimilarity was positively correlated with the time since last dry. Community dynamics resulted from change in the relative abundance of three groups of species linked by life-history responses to drought. Drought frequency and intensity covaried in response to hydrological manipulation at the landscape scale; community-level successional dynamics converged on a relatively small range of species compositions when drought return-time extended beyond 4 years. The density of small fishes increased with diminution of drought frequency, consistent with disturbance-limited community structure; less-frequent drying than experienced in this study (i.e., longer return times) yields predator-dominated regulation of small-fish communities in some parts of the Everglades.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disasters*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fishes*
  • Florida
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Population Density
  • Population Dynamics