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Dispersal is an important driver of local community dynamics. It has been proposed that, for communities composed of microscopic organisms, dispersal could well be the dominant process, outpacing local processes driven by environmental conditions and species interactions. This is because microscopic organisms often reproduce asexually, fostering rapid colonization, and are easily dispersed by water or air current. We studied the case of bdelloid rotifers belonging to the genus Adineta, microscopic asexual animals with dried stages that are easily dispersed by wind to investigate the relative effects of dispersal and local processes on their community dynamics. To this end, we constructed a classic competition model to theoretically examine how spatial and local biodiversity dynamics varied with fitness and dispersal characteristics of bdelloid Adineta species. Next, we compared our predictions with an experimental dataset containing spatio-temporal Adineta community dynamics from the wild. This comparison suggested that immigration from the local meta-community was the most critical parameter under the conditions tested. One Adineta vaga species, abundant in the surrounding area, rapidly colonized our experimental habitats and dominated most of the communities. We also ran the model under different levels of environmental conditions (permissive, intermediate and harsh) to simulate seasonal community variability and found that communities experience important bottlenecks yearly in winter but that the same community re-established. The dissimilarities observed between roof communities suggest differences in adaptation or immigration capacities. Besides their asexual reproduction and extreme desiccation tolerance, a key characteristic of bdelloid ecology identified here, is the spatio-temporal dynamic of abundant bdelloid clones present in the meta-community that rapidly colonize empty patches to establish new populations.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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