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Temporal variation in species abundances occurs in all ecological communities. Here, we explore the role that this temporal turnover plays in maintaining assemblage diversity. We investigate a three-decade time series of estuarine fishes and show that the abundances of the individual species fluctuate asynchronously around their mean levels. We then use a time-series modelling approach to examine the consequences of different patterns of turnover, by asking how the correlation between the abundance of a species in a given year and its abundance in the previous year influences the structure of the overall assemblage. Classical diversity measures that ignore species identities reveal that the observed assemblage structure will persist under all but the most extreme conditions. However, metrics that track species identities indicate a narrower set of turnover scenarios under which the predicted assemblage resembles the natural one. Our study suggests that species diversity metrics are insensitive to change and that measures that track species ranks may provide better early warning that an assemblage is being perturbed. It also highlights the need to incorporate temporal turnover in investigations of assemblage structure and function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3611-3620
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1558
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2010


  • Biodiversity
  • Turnover
  • Estuarine
  • Fish
  • Abundance
  • Rank
  • Species abundance distributions
  • Lower Severn estuary
  • Insurance hypothesis
  • Community structure
  • Relative-abundance
  • Statistical inevitability
  • Linking biodiversity
  • Population-dynamics
  • Ecosystem function
  • Self-similarity


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