Completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 breached the continental divide and set into motion a natural experiment of unprecedented magnitude by bringing previously isolated freshwater fish communities into contact. The construction of a freshwater corridor connecting evolutionarily isolated communities in Pacific and Caribbean watersheds dramatically increased the rate of dispersal, without directly affecting species interactions. Here, we report that a large fraction of species have been able to establish themselves on the other side of the continental divide, whereas no species have become extinct, leading to a local increase in species richness. Our results suggest that communities are not saturated and that competitive exclusion does not occur over the time–scale previously envisioned. Moreover, the results of this unintentional experiment demonstrate that community composition and species richness were regulated by the regional process of dispersal, rather than by local processes such as competition and predation.