Towards a unified descriptive theory for spatial ecology: Predicting biodiversity patterns across spatial scales

  1. A key challenge for both ecological researchers and biodiversity managers is the measurement and prediction of species richness across spatial scales. Typically, biodiversity is assessed at fine scales (e.g. in quadrats or transects) for practical reasons, but often we are interested in coarser‐scale (field, regional, global) diversity issues. Moreover, the pressures affecting biodiversity patterns are often scale specific, making multiscale assessment a crucial methodological priority. As species richness is not additive, it is difficult to translate from the scale of measurement to the scale(s) of interest. A number of methods have been proposed to tackle this problem, but most are too model specific or too rigid to allow general application. Here, we present a general framework (and a specific implementation of it) that allows such scale translations to be performed.
  2. Building on the intrinsic relationships among patterns of species richness, abundance and spatial turnover, we introduce a framework that links and predicts the profile of the species‐area relationship and the species‐abundance distributions across scales when a limited number of fine‐scale scattered samples are available. Using the correlation in species' abundances between pairs of samples as a function of the distance between them, we are able to link the effects of aggregation, similarity decay, species richness and species abundances across scales.
  3. Our approach allows one to draw inferences about biodiversity scaling under very general assumptions pertaining to the nature of interactions, the geographical distributions of individuals and ecological processes.
  4. We demonstrate the accuracy of our predictions using data from two well‐studied forest stands and also demonstrate the potential value of such methods by examining the effects of management on farmland insects across scales. The framework has important applications to biodiversity research and conservation practice.
Sandro Azaele, Amos Maritan, Stephen J. Cornell, Samir Suweis, Jayanth R. Banavar, Doreen Gabriel, & William E. Kunin
Methods in Ecology and Evolution