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Empirical approaches to metacommunities: a review and comparison with theory
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Limnology.
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Metacommunity theory has advanced our understanding of how spatial dynamics and local interactions shape local community structure and biodiversity. The last decade has seen an increase in implementation of these ideas in empirical ecology to explain and understand the regulation of local community structure and dynamics. Here, we review the different empirical (experimental and observational) approaches to metacommunities to analyse their strengths and weaknesses in comparison to natural ecosystems and theoretical paradigms. Experimental approaches are extremely diverse, ranging from highly controlled laboratory microcosms to large-scale fragmentation studies in the field. The main body of experiments, however, favours downscaled, artificial designs, avoiding physical complexity. These approaches are often successful in mechanistically addressing local and regional species interactions but the preponderance of artificial dispersal treatments via transfer neglects the importance of species’ differences in dispersal ability for community structure. Observational approaches mainly focus on investigating smaller organisms in aquatic communities, which are predominantly assembled by local environmental processes. However, observational approaches often lack actual measurements of dispersal rates, which hamper the distinction of local and regional effects on community composition. More generally, empirical metacommunity data deviate from theory as – with the exception of the most artificial experimental systems – the data rarely reflect specific paradigms. Thus, the paradigms capture only parts of the observed spatial dynamics. Metacommunity theory has emerged as a highly successful framework to understand the assembly of local communities but we conclude that empirical and theoretical approaches need thorough harmonisation to utilise the potential of this framework in guiding our understanding of spatial dynamics in ecological communities.

Keyword [en]
metacommunity, community ecology, experimental, observational, empirical, theory, review, literature survey
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-129366OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-129366DiVA: diva2:343098
Available from: 2010-08-12 Created: 2010-08-12 Last updated: 2011-11-15

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Logue, Jürg Brendan
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