A trait-based approach predicting community assembly and dominance of microbial invasive species.
Understanding the mechanisms underlying community assembly helps to define success and susceptibility to biological invasions. Here, we explored phytoplankton community assembly following niche and neutral paradigms and using a trait-based approach. Under the hypothesis that the morphology-based functional groups (MBFG) clusters species with similar niche, we analysed how trait-related differences in fitness influence dominance of an invasive species. This was based on literature review, field data and model simulations. We predict that invading species can be dominant if: (1) do not belong to the local MBFG but use unexploited areas of the niche, or (2) belong to the resident MBFG but exhibit a higher fitness due to a particular combination of traits. The invasive dinoflagellate Ceratium furcoides was used as the model species to evaluate these hypotheses, its morphological (e.g. volume) and physiological (e.g. growth rates) traits were compared with species from the same (V: photosynthetic flagellates) and different (VII: colonial cyanobacteria) MBFG. Fitness was estimated using models parametrized with MBFG rates (R*, ability to draw down phosphate) under different environmental conditions (i.e. flushing). Results contributed to support both hypotheses. First, the alternation of C. furcoides and cyanobacteria dominance was explained by the use of different niches. Secondly, species from MBFG V were dominant under similar environments. Within this group V C. furcoides showed higher fitness under low flushing and high predation, advantage provided by a distinctive combination of traits. The application of trait-based approaches to represent the niche and estimate fitness along environmental gradients was useful to evaluate community assembly and can be used to predict the dominance of microbial species invasions.