Spatial abundance structures in an assemblage of gall-forming sawflies


M. A. McGeoch, Department of Conservation Ecology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X01, Matieland 7602, South Africa. Tel. + 2721 808 3309; Fax: + 2721 808 3304; E-mail:


  • 1Examination of the fine-scale internal structure of species geographical ranges, and interspecific variation therein across landscapes, contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the structure of geographical ranges. Two components of this internal structure that require further examination are the occurrence, extent and position of spatial autocorrelation, and relationships between the spatial abundance structures of closely related, ecologically similar species.
  • 2Here we compare the abundance structures of an assemblage of gall-forming sawflies (Tenthredinidae) across a landscape. We identify the relative roles of spatial and non-spatial factors in explaining their abundance structures and test the hypothesis that sawfly density is explained by host plant quality, as has been demonstrated repeatedly at finer scales. We use these results to distinguish between alternative sets of mechanisms that may be operating at the landscape scale.
  • 3Species densities were mainly multimodal across the landscape and significantly spatially structured, with patch, periodic and trend components. The abundance structures thus mimic those found generally for species across the full extent of their geographical ranges.
  • 4Many abundance structure characteristics were unique to species, with differences in their correlogram profiles, distances over which densities were positively autocorrelated, and the absence of significant spatial structure in one species.
  • 5In contrast to previous, fine-scale studies, host plant quality explained little of the variation in sawfly gall density across the landscape, whereas unexplained spatial structure contributed between 30% and 50%. Based on knowledge of the biology of these species and the absence of competitive interactions, species dispersal characteristics and the Moran effect are suggested as probable alternative hypotheses at this scale.
  • 6Therefore, a spatial approach has identified the hierarchical nature of mechanisms underlying the population dynamics of this sawfly assemblage for the first time. Furthermore, it has highlighted the importance of spatial processes in explaining the densities of species at the landscape scale, as well as the individualistic nature of their abundance structures.