Over the past decade an increasing number of studies have experimentally manipulated the number of species in a community and examined how this alters the aggregate production of species biomass. Many of these studies have shown that the effects of richness on biomass change through time, but we have limited understanding of the mechanisms that produce these dynamic trends. Here we report the results of an experiment in which we manipulated the richness of freshwater algae in laboratory microcosms. We used two experimental designs (additive and substitutive) that make different assumptions about how patches are initially colonized, and then tracked the development of community biomass from the point of initial colonization through a period of 6-12 generations of the focal species. We found that the effect of initial species richness on biomass production qualitatively shifted twice over the course of the experiment. The first shift occurred as species transitioned from density-independent to dependent phases of population growth. At this time, intraspecific competition caused monocultures to approach their respective carrying capacities more slowly than polycultures. As a consequence, species tended to over-yield for a brief time, generating a positive, but transient effect of diversity on community biomass. The second shift occurred as communities approached carrying capacity. At this time, strong interspecific interactions caused biomass to be dominated by the competitively superior species in polycultures. As this species had the lowest carrying capacity, a negative effect of diversity on biomass resulted in late succession. Although these two shifts produced dynamics that appeared complex, we show that the patterns can be fit to a simple Lotka-Volterra model of competition. Our results suggest that the effects of algal diversity on primary production change in a predictable sequence through successional time.
- Algal communities
- Species richness