Understanding the manner in which communities develop over time is a fundamental goal of ecology. Traditionally, successional dynamics are investigated using either empirical or theoretical techniques but not both. Although there has been a great deal of work investigating succession and recovery processes in both terrestrial and marine systems, the circumstances governing both the likelihood and rate of ecological convergence remain poorly understood.
As more ecosystems are threatened by anthropogenic impacts, quantitative knowledge of the factors that contribute to recovery time can aid in the placement of reserves or other management decisions. Much of the work predicting community recovery dynamics has operated upon the general premise that community processes from intact communities can be used to predict community response to a disturbance.My research aims to improve our ability to predict and understand recovery rates and trajectories by including information about the importance of propagule input, species life history characteristics (i.e. lifespan and dispersal capability), geographic location and species interactions in predictive models. This combination of empirical and modeling techniques will provide a more complete understanding of the relative importance of ecological variables and species interactions in driving patterns of ecological succession, a process that is ubiquitous in nature.
I combine field data of post-disturbance community development with Markov analyses to broaden our understanding of the mechanisms driving observed differences in successional rates and trajectories. I have calculated community recovery rates following an experimental disturbance of an array of sizes across a major biogeographic break on the California coast in four intertidal assemblages (zones) that are each dominated by a taxon with a unique combination of life history traits: The California mussel Mytilus californianus, the acorn barnacle Chthamalus dalli/fissus, the rockweed Silvetia compressaand the red turf seaweed Endocladia muricata .