The Princeton Guide to Ecology

By Simon A. Levin | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Spatial and Metacommunity
Dynamics in Biodiversity
M. A. Leibold
1. Two important consequences of dispersal in metacommunities
2. The four paradigms of metacommunity ecology
3. Synthetic efforts
4. Application of metacommunity thinking to food webs and ecosystems
5. A critique of metacommunity thinking

Spatial dynamics presents some of the biggest challenges in modern ecology. These occur when the movement of organisms in space affects their populations and consequently affects how they interact with other species. It has long been known that spatial dynamics can be very important in regulating species interactions. For example, Huffaker (1958) found that spatial structure in the form of patchy resources with limited dispersal was important in allowing coexistence of the predatory mite Tylodromus occidentalis with its prey, the six-spotted mite Eotetranychus sexmaculatus. In a different context, Watt (1947) recognized that a spatial “mosaic” of patches was key in regulating the process of succession in communities because patches at different stages of succession were key sources of colonists during the process as patches underwent successional cycles. Despite this long recognition that spatial effects were important in community ecology, however, a satisfying conceptual, theoretical, and experimental understanding of spatial dynamics is still in development (Tilman and Kareiva, 1997; Hanski, 1999; Chesson etal., 2005).


mass effects. Variation in community composition determined by source–sink relations among patches

metacommunity. A set of local communities connected by the dispersal of at least one component species

neutral dynamic. Variation in community composition determined by stochastic effects of dispersal and demography among species with equivalent niches

patch dynamics. Variation in community composition determined by extinctions of species in patches and colonization among patches

species sorting. Variation in community composition determined by the optimization of fitness among species across patches

Spatial dynamics is intimately linked with the principle of dispersal. Much of the work has examined passive dispersal in which organisms do not have much control over where they go (cases of dispersal where there is such control are mostly studied in behavioral ecology, where they often involve habitat selection behavior). There are numerous approaches to understanding how dispersal affects community interactions, and some of these are outlined in table 1. These approaches vary (Durrett and Levin, 1994; Bolker and Pacala, 1997) in whether they view space as consisting of discrete patches or a continuous landscape, whether they view dispersal as a local process or a global one, and whether they account for space explicitly (having a “map” of locations) or implicitly (just taking into account that there are distinct areas but not keeping track of where they are) as well as whether they account for the discrete nature of individuals. Generally, the simpler approaches are easier to understand but are more likely to oversimplify the situations than the more complex ones. These approaches also differ in their goals, with some of them focused on accounting for how population density varies in space and time, some focused on understanding coexistence, and some focused on understanding diversity or other questions. Although different approaches often give somewhat different answers, there are many common insights that can result (Durrett and Levin, 1994).


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Princeton Guide to Ecology
Table of contents

Table of contents



Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 810

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?