Fluctuating resource availability increases invasibility in microbial microcosms

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The fluctuating resource hypothesis (FRH) proposes that fluctuations in resource supply can temporally reduce competitive pressure from resident species, thereby providing ephemeral opportunities for invading species. Although FRH has the potential to integrate many existing hypotheses regarding mechanisms of community invasibility, previous tests and evaluations of FRH were based on single trophic level, did not take the timing effect into account, and had difficulties in distinguishing the effects of resource pulses from other simultaneous processes. Here we test FRH in multi-trophic aquatic microcosms by creating resource pulses, by controlling resource quantity, propagule supply and pulse recurrence frequency, and by manipulating the timing of pulses relative to the timing of the arrival of new species (i.e. invaders) to local communities. The novelty of our work lies in that we directly manipulate resource pulse timing relative to invader introduction events and thus demonstrate the importance of this timing effect for community invasibility. Our study supports FRH in general: invasion success was positively related to resource pulses, and invaders had strong performance in treatments receiving coincident pulses, although not all invaders gained more benefit when resources were supplied at large-magnitude than supplied at continuous rates. Since many ecosystems worldwide are experiencing high rates of anthropogenic nutrient input and increasing rates of precipitation, these ecosystems are potentially more fragile and susceptible to invasion. More experiments across multiple ecosystem types are needed to help formulate a general theory of community invasibility.

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