Date of this Version
PLoS ONE 8(10): e77338. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077338
Ecological systems may occur in alternative states that differ in ecological structures, functions and processes. Resilience is the measure of disturbance an ecological system can absorb before changing states. However, how the intrinsic structures and processes of systems that characterize their states affects their resilience remains unclear. We analyzed time series of phytoplankton communities at three sites in a floodplain in central Spain to assess the dominant frequencies or “temporal scales” in community dynamics and compared the patterns between a wet and a dry alternative state. The identified frequencies and cross-scale structures are expected to arise from positive feedbacks that are thought to reinforce processes in alternative states of ecological systems and regulate emergent phenomena such as resilience. Our analyses show a higher species richness and diversity but lower evenness in the dry state. Time series modeling revealed a decrease in the importance of short-term variability in the communities, suggesting that community dynamics slowed down in the dry relative to the wet state. The number of temporal scales at which community dynamics manifested, and the explanatory power of time series models, was lower in the dry state. The higher diversity, reduced number of temporal scales and the lower explanatory power of time series models suggest that species dynamics tended to be more stochastic in the dry state. From a resilience perspective our results highlight a paradox: increasing species richness may not necessarily enhance resilience. The loss of cross-scale structure (i.e. the lower number of temporal scales) in community dynamics across sites suggests that resilience erodes during drought. Phytoplankton communities in the dry state are therefore likely less resilient than in the wet state. Our case study demonstrates the potential of time series modeling to assess attributes that mediate resilience. The approach is useful for assessing resilience of alternative states across ecological and other complex systems.