Long-term community change through multiple rapid transitions in a desert rodent community


While studies increasingly document long‐term change in community composition, whether long‐term change occurs gradually or via rapid reorganization events remains unclear. We used Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) and a change‐point model to examine the long‐term dynamics of a desert rodent community undergoing compositional change over a 38‐yr span. Our approach detected three rapid reorganization events, where changes in the relative abundances of dominant and rare species occurred, and a separate period of increased variance in the structure of the community. These events coincided with time periods, possibly related to climate events, where the total abundance of rodents was extremely low. There are a variety of processes that could link low abundance events with a higher probability of rapid ecological transitions, including higher importance of stochastic processes (i.e., competitive interactions or priority effects) and the removal of structuring effects of competitive dominants or incumbent species. Continued study of the dynamics of community change will provide important information not only on the processes structuring communities, but will also provide guidance for forecasting how communities will undergo change in the future.