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The influence of pool volume and summer desiccation on the production of the resting and dispersal stage in a Daphnia metapopulation

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Dispersal is a key process in metapopulations, as migrants genetically connect populations and enable the colonization of empty habitat patches. Sub-populations may differ in their numerical contribution of migrants within a metapopulation. This has strong implications on evolutionary and ecological dynamics and has led to two different hypotheses about the Daphnia metapopulation studied here: the assessment by some authors is that sub-populations contribute equally to the production of migrants, while others have postulated long-lived core populations in large “mainland” habitat patches as the dominant source of migrants. We have studied the resting and dispersal stage (ephippium) in a natural Daphnia metapopulation and in mesocosm experiments, and tested for effects of habitat size and summer desiccation. We found that a 1000-fold increase in rock pool volume resulted on average in only in a 2.8-fold increase in ephippium production. Mesocosm experiments confirmed these results: a 1000-fold increase of the mesocosms’ volume resulted in a 7.2-fold increase in ephippium production. Additionally, we showed that ephippium production did not depend on the initial population size. Thus, populations in small pools may contribute only marginal fewer potential migrants in the whole metapopulation than populations in large pools. In a second mesocosm experiment we found that summer desiccation, which is a typical occurrence in small pools, is not detrimental for the populations. Daphnia hatched out of ephippia that were produced earlier within the same season and built up viable populations again. The substantial production of ephippia by populations in small pools suggests that these populations might be important for both the dynamics and global stability of metapopulations.

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We thank J. Hottinger and V. Mislin for technical help, K. Saggese and T. Zumbrunn for help during the field work and I. Pajunen for discussions. O. Balmer, A. Bieger, W. Weisser, T. Zumbrunn and two anonymous reviewers gave helpful comments on the manuscript. The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. F. Altermatt thanks the Basler Stiftung für experimentelle Zoologie, the Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft and the Emilia Guggenheim-Schnurr-Stiftung for financial support during the field work. This work is part of project no 97524006 at Tvärminne Zoological Station. D. Ebert was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The experiments comply with the current laws in Finland.

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Correspondence to Florian Altermatt.

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Communicated by Wolfgang Weiser.

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Altermatt, F., Ebert, D. The influence of pool volume and summer desiccation on the production of the resting and dispersal stage in a Daphnia metapopulation. Oecologia 157, 441–452 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-008-1080-4

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  • Desiccation
  • Dispersal propagule
  • Ephippium production
  • Migrant
  • Migration
  • Resting egg
  • Rock pool