Dispersal allows species to immigrate and emigrate to and from habitat patches and is an important factor in determining community structure. The influence of species dispersal in a metacommunity is poorly understood, particularly its effect at the local community level. We aimed to address this deficiency by evaluating the potential influence of dispersal on local community structure in a rock pool metacommunity. Short term dispersal was quantified over an 11 day period by intercepting propagules dispersing via overflowing pool water and via wind. The composition of dispersing organisms was compared to natural local communities in the rock pools surveyed annually on 11 occasions. On average, the composition and abundance of dispersing species was approximately 54.1 ± 9.3% (mean ± SD) similar to the established pool community. Some species were more abundant among dispersers than they were in the pool community. This may be attributed to several factors including a variation in tolerance to environmental conditions, dispersal capacity, and local scale species interactions (predation and competition). In general, we found considerable similarity between short term dispersal and long term local community structure across a metacommunity. Differences in abundance patterns between the resident rock pool community and the dispersal assemblage emphasize that dispersal, a regional process, must interact with local factors in structuring communities.
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