Temporal patterns of species abundance, although less well-studied than spatial patterns, provide valuable insight to the processes governing community assembly. We compared temporal abundance distributions of two communities, phytoplankton and fish, in a north temperate lake. We used both 17 years of observed relative abundance data as well as resampled data from Monte Carlo simulations to account for the possible effects of non-detection of rare species. Similar to what has been found in other communities, phytoplankton and fish species that appeared more frequently were generally more abundant than rare species. However, neither community exhibited two distinct groups of "core" (common occurrence and high abundance) and "occasional" (rare occurrence and low abundance) species. Both observed and resampled data show that the phytoplankton community was dominated by occasional species appearing in only one year that exhibited large variation in their abundances, while the fish community was dominated by core species occurring in all 17 years at high abundances. We hypothesize that the life-history traits that enable phytoplankton to persist in highly dynamic environments may result in communities dominated by occasional species capable of reaching high abundances when conditions allow. Conversely, longer turnover times and broad environmental tolerances of fish may result in communities dominated by core species structured primarily by competitive interactions.