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Am Nat. 2008 Dec;172(6):741-50. doi: 10.1086/593002.

Disintegration of the ecological community.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri 63121, USA.


In this essay, I argue that the seemingly indestructible concept of the community as a local, interacting assemblage of species has hindered progress toward understanding species richness at local to regional scales. I suggest that the distributions of species within a region reveal more about the processes that generate diversity patterns than does the co-occurrence of species at any given point. The local community is an epiphenomenon that has relatively little explanatory power in ecology and evolutionary biology. Local coexistence cannot provide insight into the ecogeographic distributions of species within a region, from which local assemblages of species derive, nor can local communities be used to test hypotheses concerning the origin, maintenance, and regulation of species richness, either locally or regionally. Ecologists are moving toward a community concept based on interactions between populations over a continuum of spatial and temporal scales within entire regions, including the population and evolutionary processes that produce new species.

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