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Linking intrinsic scales of ecological processes to characteristic scales of biodiversity and functioning patterns

  • Zelnik, Yuval R.
  • Barbier, Matthieu
  • Shanafelt, David W.
  • Loreau, Michel
  • Germain, Rachel M.
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2024
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Ecology is a science of scale, which guides our description of both ecological processes and patterns, but we lack a systematic understanding of how process scale and pattern scale are connected. Recent calls for synthesis between population ecology, community ecology, and ecosystem ecology motivate the integration of phenomena at multiple organizational levels. Furthermore, many studies leave out the scaling of a critical process: species interactions, which may be non-local through movement or foraging and must be distinguished from dispersal scales. Here, we use simulations to explore the consequences of three different process scales (species interactions, dispersal, and the environment) on emergent patterns of biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and their relationship, in a spatially-explicit landscape and stable equilibrium setting. A major result of our study is that the spatial scales of dispersal and species interactions have opposite effects: a larger dispersal scale homogenizes spatial biomass patterns, while a larger interaction scale amplifies their heterogeneity. Interestingly, the specific scale at which dispersal and interaction scales begin to influence landscape patterns depends on the scale of environmental heterogeneity – in other words, the scale of one process allows important scales to emerge in other processes. This interplay between process scales, i.e. a situation where no single process dominates, can only occur when the environment is heterogeneous and the scale of dispersal small. Finally, contrary to our expectations, we observe that the spatial scale of ecological processes is more clearly reflected in landscape patterns (i.e. distribution of local outcomes) than in global patterns such as species–area relationships (SARs) or large-scale biodiversity–functioning relationships. Overall we conclude that long-range interactions often act differently and even in opposite ways to dispersal, and that the landscape patterns that emerge from the interplay of long-ranged interactions, dispersal and environmental heterogeneity are not well captured by often-used metrics like the SAR.

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