Dynamics Of Species Interaction Strength In Space, Time And With Developmental Stage

Quantifying species interaction strengths enhances prediction of community dynamics, but variability in the strength of species interactions in space and time complicates accurate prediction. Interaction strengths can vary in response to density, indirect effects, priority effects or a changing environment, but the mechanism(s) causing direction and magnitudes of change are often unclear. We designed an experiment to characterize how environmental factors influence the direction and the strength of priority effects between sessile species. We estimated per capita non-trophic effects of barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides) on newly settled germlings of the fucoid, Ascophyllum nodosum, in the presence and absence of consumers in experiments on rocky shores throughout the Gulf of Maine, USA. Per capita effects on germlings varied among environments and barnacle life stages, and these interaction strengths were largely unaltered by changing consumer abundance. Whereas previous evidence shows adult barnacles facilitate fucoids, here, we show that recent settlers and established juveniles initially compete with germlings. As barnacles mature, they switch to become facilitators of fucoids. Consumers caused variable mortality of germlings through time comparable to that from competition. Temporally variable effects of interactors (e.g. S. balanoides), or spatial variation in their population structure, in different regions differentially affect target populations (e.g. A. nodosum). This may affect abundance of critical stages and the resilience of target species to environmental change in different geographical regions.