Experimental Decoupling of Canopy Opening and Debris Addition on Tropical Gastropod Populations and Communities

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Climate-induced disturbances such as hurricanes affect the structure and functioning of many ecosystems, especially those in the Caribbean Basin, where effects are well documented with regard to biodiversity and biogeochemical dynamics. Because climate change will likely alter the frequency or intensity of such storms, it is increasingly important to understand the mechanistic bases for ecosystem responses. However, this is particularly difficult to do in the absence of manipulative experiments that decouple confounded factors such as canopy opening and debris deposition. To address this issue, we exploited a replicated factorial design to experimentally distinguish the effects of canopy opening and debris deposition on population- and community-level characteristics of gastropods in the Luquillo Experimental Forest of Puerto Rico. Despite considerable spatial variation, abundances of all gastropods (combined) as well as abundances of each of 3 species (i.e., Alcadia striata, Platysuccinea portoricensis, and Polydontes acutangula) responded significantly to canopy opening while abundances of each of 2 species (i.e., Pl. portoricensis, and Po. acutangula) responded significantly to debris deposition within two years of experimental manipulation. In contrast, two species (i.e., Gaeotis nigrolineata and Nenia tridens) did not respond to any experimental manipulations in the short term. Moreover, species composition did not differ between pre- and post-manipulation periods, in part because of considerable variation among replicated blocks. In contrast, canopy removal consistently affected species richness, Shannon diversity, and rarity, while debris deposition consistently affected species richness and Shannon diversity. Neither treatment affected species dominance or evenness. Longer-term responses of the gastropod fauna were more complex. Although considerable interspecific heterogeneity characterized responses of the gastropod fauna, temporal variation in mean abundance for each of the three manipulative treatments was similar to that of the non-manipulated treatment when abundances were combined for all species. In contrast, temporal variation in each of the manipulative treatments was unrelated to temporal variation in the non-manipulated treatment for species richness, evenness, dominance, and rarity. Moreover, temporal variation in abundance generally differed between at least two of the manipulative treatments for most species and temporal variation in components of taxonomic biodiversity generally differed between manipulative treatments as well. Temporal variation in species composition was considerable and comparable for each of the four treatment combinations. Species composition within each treatment combination varied over time in ways unrelated to temporal variation in the other treatment combinations, including the reference treatment (i.e., no canopy trimming and no debris addition). Manipulated treatments were surrounded by large areas of intact forest, and tabonuco forest generally exhibits appreciable spatial and temporal variation. Natural spatiotemporal variation in the study system likely overwhelmed many of the effects of experimental manipulations on gastropod populations or communities via edge effects and recruitment of individuals from nearby less disturbed portions of the landscape.

Original Citation

Willing, M.R., Bloch, C.P., & Presley, S.J. (2014). Experimental Decoupling of Canopy Opening and Debris Addition on Tropical Gastropod Populations and Communities. Forest Ecology and Management. 332, 103-117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2014.01.036