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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Aug 22;276(1669):2923-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0523. Epub 2009 May 20.

What drives community dynamics?

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Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Helsinki, PO Box 68 (Gustaf Hällströmin katu 2b), 00014 Helsinki, Finland.


The search for general mechanisms of community assembly is a major focus of community ecology. The common practice so far has been to examine alternative assembly theories using dichotomist approaches of the form neutrality versus niche, or compensatory dynamics versus environmental forcing. In reality, all these mechanisms will be operating, albeit with different strengths. While there have been different approaches to community structure and dynamics, including neutrality and niche differentiation, less work has gone into separating out the temporal variation in species abundances into relative contributions from different components. Here we use a refined statistical machinery to decompose temporal fluctuations in species abundances into contributions from environmental stochasticity and inter-/intraspecific interactions, to see which ones dominate. We apply the methodology to community data from a range of taxa. Our results show that communities are largely driven by environmental fluctuations, and that member populations are, to different extents, regulated through intraspecific interactions, the effects of interspecific interactions remaining broadly minor. By decomposing the temporal variation in this way, we have been able to show directly what has been previously inferred indirectly: compensatory dynamics are in fact largely outweighed by environmental forcing, and the latter tends to synchronize the population dynamics.

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