Poster presentation 12th International Mammalogical Congress

Community disassembly in carcasses: Metacommunity persistence in an ephemeral habitat (#729)

Brian J O'Neill 1
  1. University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, Whitewater, Wisconsin, United States of America

Ecologists have long highlighted how a community’s assembly sequence can shape its future assemblage. However, in ephemeral ecosystems, communities repeatedly disassemble.  Community disassembly is the non-random process of progressive species declines and losses, and is usually studied in the context of how communities lose species to different forces (disturbance, habitat fragmentation, unnatural/anthropogenic stressors, etc.). However, in ephemeral/temporary ecosystems, disassembly is a natural and repeated process. While most ephemeral ecosystem research has been done in aquatic systems, the sequence of disassembly in terrestrial habitats can have an equally strong effect on the future community. Common terrestrial ephemeral habitats are carcasses. They have distinct communities, and these communities persist long-term through meta-community processes. We set out to test how carcass communities responded to disassembly, specifically how the meta-community responded to distance between each community patch. We laid out rat carcasses in a grid with a variety of distances between each carcass. We observed the presence/absence of different scavengers (insects, coyotes, crows, etc) through direct observation and camera trapping. We expected carcasses that were close to each other to have a higher diversity and more slowly disassemble. We found that diversity was higher at the carcasses close to each other, but the rescue effect was not that strong, which could be partly due to the presence of other carcasses naturally in the environment. Overall, disassembly is an important part of the ecology of ephemeral ecosystems. Learning about this fundamental ecological process teaches us about a key part of the life cycle of ephemeral ecosystems.