Metacommunity Dynamics

Florian Altermatt

in Ecology

ISBN: 9780199830060
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:
Metacommunity Dynamics

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  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Ecology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences


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Understanding the distribution of species, their abundance, and their interactions with other species is the central theme of ecology. A large part of community ecology dealing with these aspects has focused on the scale of individual communities. The study of how spatial dynamics can provide an explanation for the origin and maintenance of biodiversity is a relatively young domain, founded in the research on island biogeography. The rapid loss and fragmentation of habitats due to human activities has further increased the interest in spatial ecology and has fostered the study of metacommunity dynamics. A metacommunity is defined as a set of local communities that are linked by dispersal. For single species, the metapopulation concept addresses how dispersal connecting a set of local populations can compensate for local extinction and enable the regional persistence of a species. While explicitly addressing different spatial scales, the metapopulation concept ignores the possibility that species may affect each other’s birth and death rates. Metacommunity ecology explicitly addresses interactions among species at different spatial scales and addresses how species interactions can influence or be influenced by spatial dynamics. The concept of metacommunities thereby combines two common features of many biological systems: first, that species are interacting in complex ways and, second, that spatial heterogeneity and fragmentation lead to patches of suitable habitat in a matrix of nonhabitat. Importantly, species interactions can affect spatial processes and vice versa. This reciprocal influence can be a nontrivial source of variation affecting community composition. The current interest in the field of metacommunity ecology is mostly in understanding which types of interactions are occurring at different spatial scales and understanding the relative importance of species interactions and dispersal in shaping natural communities.

Article.  13176 words. 

Subjects: Applied Ecology (Environmental Science) ; Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Ecology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences

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