Understanding the processes that control species abundance and distribution is a major challenge in ecology, yet for a large number of potentially important organisms, we know little about the biotic and abiotic factors that influence population size. One group of aquatic organisms that defies traditional demographic analyses is the Crustacea, particularly those with complex life cycles. We used likelihood techniques and information theoretics to evaluate a suite of models representing alternative hypotheses on factors controlling the abundance of two copepod crustaceans in a small, tropical floodplain lake. Quantitative zooplankton samples were collected at three stations in a Venezuelan floodplain lake from June through December 1984; the average sampling interval was two days. We constructed a series of models with stage structure that incorporated six biotic and abiotic covariates in various combinations to account for temporal changes in abundance of these target species and in their population growth rates. Our analysis produced several novel insights into copepod population dynamics. We found that multiple forces affected the abundance of particular stages, that these factors differed between species as well as among stages within each species, and that biotic processes had the largest effects on copepod population dynamics. Density dependence had a large effect on the survival of Oithona amazonica copepodites and on population growth rate of Diaptomus negrensis.
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