Temporal dynamics of aquatic communities and implications for pond conservation

Conservation through the protection of particular habitats is predicated on the assumption that the conservation value of those habitats is stable. We test this assumption for ponds by investigating temporal variation in macroinvertebrate and macrophyte communities over a 10-year period in northwest England. We surveyed 51 ponds in northern England in 1995/6 and again in 2006, identifying all macrophytes (167 species) and all macroinvertebrates (221 species, excluding Diptera) to species. The alpha-diversity, beta-diversity and conservation value of these ponds were compared between surveys. We find that invertebrate species richness increased from an average of 29.5 species to 39.8 species between surveys. Invertebrate gamma-diversity also increased between the two surveys from 181 species to 201 species. However, this increase in diversity was accompanied by a decrease in beta-diversity. Plant alpha-, beta- and gamma-diversity remained approximately constant between the two periods. However, increased proportions of grass species and a complete loss of charophytes suggests that the communities are undergoing succession. Conservation value was not correlated between sampling periods in either plants or invertebrates. This was confirmed by comparing ponds that had been disturbed with those that had no history of disturbance to demonstrate that levels of correlation between surveys were approximately equal in each group of ponds. This study has three important conservation implications: (i) a pond with high diversity or high conservation value may not remain that way and so it is unwise to base pond conservation measures upon protecting currently-speciose habitats; (ii) maximising pond gamma-diversity requires a combination of late and early succession ponds, especially for invertebrates; and (iii) invertebrate and plant communities in ponds may require different management strategies if succession occurs at varying rates in the two groups.