Using spatial analyses to infer assembly rules in plant metacommunities
Community assembly provides a conceptual framework for understanding multiple species coexistence in nature. A metacommunity is the collection of several local communities, linked by dispersal of potentially interacting species. By definition, it is implied that ecological processes in a locally assembled community are builtin within a metacommunity. We do not know, however, exactly how these ecological processes influence the assembly of a metacommunity. To understand the assembly of a plant metacommunity, three ecological processes are important: (i) seed dispersal (ii) abiotic factors and (iii) biotic interactions. Spatial scale and landscape heterogeneity affects all of these processes. However, the role spatial scale and landscape heterogeneity is not always defined explicitly in contemporary metacommunity models. While spatial scale and the underlying landscape influence metacommunity assembly, biotic processes in a metacommunity creates different spatial patterns. Therefore, quantification and analysis of spatial pattern may be useful for identifying assembly processes. However, quantification of spatial patterns is a challenging task. Any observed pattern in a natural community may result from biotic interactions (i.e., spatial autocorrelation) or environmental heterogeneity (i.e., spatial dependence), but there is no readily avaialable technique to separate spatial dependence from spatial autocorrelation.
My objective is to contribute toward better understanding of metacommunity dynamics by explicitly putting space and landscape into the metacommunity framework.