Chapter Four – Habitat Isolation Reduces the Temporal Stability of Island Ecosystems in the Face of Flood Disturbance

Orla McLaughlin, M.C. Emmerson, E.J. O'Gorman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Natural ecosystems are increasingly exposed to multiple anthropogenic stressors, including land-use change, deforestation, agricultural intensification, and urbanisation, all of which have led to widespread habitat fragmentation, which is also likely to be amplified further by predicted climate change. The potential interactive effects of these different stressors cannot be determined by studying each in isolation, although such synergies have been largely ignored in ecological field studies to date. Here, we use a model system of naturally fragmented islands in a braided river network, which is exposed to periodic inundation, to investigate the interactive effects of habitat isolation and flood disturbance. Food web structure was similar across the islands during periods of hydrological stability, but several key properties were altered in the aftermath of flood disturbance, based on distance of the islands from the regional source pool of species: taxon richness and mean food chain length declined with habitat isolation after flooding, while the proportion of basal species increased. Greater species turnover through time reflected the slower process of re-colonisation on the more distant islands following disturbance. Increased variability of several food web properties over a 1-year period highlighted the reduced temporal stability of isolated habitat fragments. Many of these effects reflected the differential successes of predator and prey species at re-colonising the islands: even though larger, more mobile consumers may reach the more distant islands first, they cannot establish populations until the lower trophic levels have successfully reassembled. These results highlight the susceptibility of fragmented ecosystems to environmental perturbations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-284
Number of pages60
JournalAdvances in Ecological Research
Early online date06 Sep 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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