Niche segregation factors in an assemblage of pelagic rotifers of a deep high-mountain lake (Redon, Pyrenees)

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The niche space of a species has been defined as the region in N-dimensional environmental hyperspace in which the fitness of the individuals is positive. In zooplankton assemblages, there has been little consideration of how different density-dependent (i.e. resources) and density-independent (i.e. conditions) environmental factors relate to fitness components in the field, namely survival and reproduction. We studied the abundance and reproduction (egg ratio) variability of seven species of pelagic rotifers living in a high-mountain lake and their relation to a number of environmental factors by means of partial canonical correspondence analyses. The generally higher explanatory capacity of conditions over resources suggests that habitat partitioning among species largely relies on historical processes, which are internalized in life history traits of spatial and temporal habitat use. However, the increase in the relevance of resources when considering reproduction, when compared with abundance, indicates that there is still an on-going interactive niche segregation process among rotifer species, which affects the present and future rotifer assemblages in the lake. Our study shows the value of considering measurements close to fitness components (e.g. egg ratio) for detecting on-going niche segregation processes in zooplankton, which may help to resolve paradoxes in relation to species coexistence in natural assemblages.

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