In nature, very few species are common and broadly distributed. Most species are rare and occupy few sites; this pattern is ubiquitous across habitats and taxa. In spatially structured communities (metacommunities), regional distribution and local abundance may change as the relative effects of within-habitat processes (e.g., species interactions) and among-habitat processes (e.g., dispersal) may vary through succession. A field experiment with the marine benthic inhabitants of pen shells (Atrina rigida) tested how common and rare species respond to succession and metacommunity size. I followed community development through time and partitioned species into sessile and motile based on their natural history. Rare species drive diversity patterns and are influenced by metacommunity size: there are strong abundance-distribution differences between common and rare species in large metacommunities, but motile species show lower rates of change than sessile species. In small metacommunities both common and rare species have similar changes through time; the dichotomous distinction of common and rare species is not present. Edge effects in metacommunities affect species' changes in distribution and abundance. In large metacommunities diversity is higher in edge habitats relative to small metacommunities during early succession. However, edge effects benefit motile species over time in small metacommunities showing a rapid increase in diversity. Individual mobility is sensitive to regional community size and allows individuals to sort among different communities. In contrast, sessile species do not show this edge effect. Metacommunity theory is a useful framework for understanding spatially structured communities, but the natural history of coexisting species cannot be ignored.
- Abundance-distribution relationship
- Benthic community
- Community assembly
- Rare species