Islands in a sea of nutrients: testing subsidized island biogeography

Date

2018-05-01

Authors

Fitzpatrick, Owen T.

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Abstract

Islands have typically been considered isolated entities, patches of habitat surrounded by an entirely inhospitable marine or aquatic environment. However, there is increasing evidence that islands can be linked to the surrounding environment through the influx of subsidies, which may alter the relationship between species richness and island area. Little empirical work has been done to test these hypotheses in productive ecosystems, however. To better understand the effects of the influx of marine subsidies on island ecosystems, I assessed plant community responses to wrack biomass in an observational study on 74 small islands on the Central Coast of British Columbia. In Chapter 2, I focused on 1) how seaweed wrack subsidies affect the diversity of understory plant communities, 2) whether wrack subsidies affect the species-area relationship, and 3) whether the effect of wrack subsidies is mediated by landscape-scale habitat characteristics such as island area and shoreline slope. To assess the support for these hypotheses, I selected from models that combined plant community data, remotely-sensed habitat characteristics, and shoreline wrack biomass. I used hierarchical models to provide further insight into the cross-scale influence of these factors on plot-scale responses. I found that wrack subsidies were associated with increased island-scale plant species richness. Although wrack subsidies did not alter the relationship between species richness and area on these islands, I found that smaller islands had higher levels of marine-derived nitrogen, indicating a greater influence of marine subsidies on the nitrogen pool of smaller islands. My results add to the weight of evidence that marine subsidies are drivers of large-scale patterns of species richness, and that the linkage between islands and the surrounding environment has implications for island communities.

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Keywords

island biogeography, marine subsidies, plant, community ecology, Central Coast

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