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Integrating environmental and spatial processes in ecological community dynamics


  • Karl Cottenie

    1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, 735 State Street Suite 300, Santa Barbara, CA 930101, USA
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Present address: Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph Guelph, ON, Canada N1G 2W1. E-mail:


The processes controlling the abundances of species across multiple sites form the cornerstone of modern ecology. In these metacommunities, the relative importance of local environmental and regional spatial processes is currently hotly debated, especially in terms of the validity of neutral model. I collected 158 published data sets with information on community structure, environmental and spatial variables. I showed that approximately 50% of the variation in community composition is explained by both environmental and spatial variables. The majority of the data sets were structured by species-sorting dynamics (SS), followed by a combination of SS and mass-effect dynamics. While neutral processes were the only structuring process in 8% of the collected natural communities, disregarding neutral dispersal processes would result in missing important patterns in 37% of the studied communities. Moreover, metacommunity characteristics such as dispersal type, habitat type and spatial scale predicted part of the detected variation in metacommunity structure.

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