Geographic signatures in species turnover: decoupling colonization and extinction across a latitudinal gradient

7 September 2017

Jones, Natalie; Gilbert, Benjamin

High latitude communities have low species richness and are rapidly warming with climate change. Thus, temporal changes in community composition are expected to be greatest at high latitudes. However, at the same time traits such as body size can also change with latitude, potentially offsetting or increasing changes to community composition over time. We tested how zooplankton communities (copepods and cladocerans) have changed over a 25-75 year time span by assessing colonization and extinction rates from lakes across an 1800 km latitudinal gradient, and further tested whether species traits predict rates of community change over time. Lake-level dissimilarity, measured with Sorenson distance, decreased at higher latitudes. This decrease was due to higher colonization rates of cladocerans in lower latitude lakes and consistent extinction rates across the latitudinal gradient. At the species level, colonization increased with regional occupancy, and tended to be higher for smaller bodied, locally abundant, species. Local extinction rates were negatively correlated with local abundance and regional occupancy, but were not influenced by body size. None of these species-specific characteristics changed predictably with latitude. Contrary to our expectations, low-latitude zooplankton communities changed more rapidly than high-latitude communities by becoming more species rich, not by losing species that were historically present. Moreover, colonization and extinction trends suggest that lakes have become increasingly dominated by species with smaller body sizes and that are already common locally and regionally. Together, these findings indicate that rates of species turnover in freshwater lakes across a latitudinal gradient are not predicted by rates of temperature change, but that turnover is nonetheless resulting in trait-shifts that favour small, generalist species.