Disentangling local, metapopulation, and cross‐community sources of stabilization and asynchrony in metacommunities Academic Article uri icon

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  • Asynchronous fluctuations of populations are essential for maintaining stable levels of bio-mass and ecosystem function in landscapes. Yet, understanding the stabilization of metacommunities by asynchrony is complicated by the existence of multiple forms of asynchrony that are typically studied independently: Community ecologists, for instance, focus on asynchrony within and among local communities, while population ecologists emphasize asynchrony of populations in metapopulations. Still, other forms of asynchrony, such as that which underlies the spatial insurance effect, are not captured by any existing analytical frameworks. We therefore developed a framework that would in one analysis unmask the stabilizing roles of local communities and metapopulations and so unify these perspectives. Our framework shows that metacommunity stabilization arises from one local and two regional forms of asynchrony: (1) asynchrony among species of a local community, (2) asynchrony among populations of a metapopulation, and (3) cross-community asynchrony, which is between different species in different local communities and underlies spatial insurance. For each type of stabilization, we derived links to diversity indices and associated diversity-stability relationships. We deployed this framework in a set of rock pool invertebrate metacommunities in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, to partition sources of stabilization and test their dependence on diversity. Cross-community asynchrony was the dominant form of stabilization, accounting for >60% of total metacommunity stabilization despite being undetectable with existing frameworks. Environmental variation influenced types of stabilization through different mechanisms. pH and dissolved oxygen, for example, increased asynchrony by decorrelating local species, while salinity did so by changing the abundance structure of metapopulations. Lastly, all types of asynchrony depended strongly on different types of diversity (alpha, metapopulation, and beta diversity drove local, metapopulation, and cross-community asynchrony, respectively) to produce multiple diversity-stability relationships within metacommunities. Our new partition of metacommunity dynamics highlights how different elements-from local communities to metapopulations-combine to stabilize metacommunities and depend critically on contrasting environmental regimes and diversities. Understanding and balancing these sources of stability in dynamic landscapes is a looming challenge for the future. We suggest that synthetic frameworks which merge ecological perspectives will be essential for grasping and safeguarding the stability of natural systems.


  • Hammond, Matthew
  • Loreau, Michel
  • Mazancourt, Claire
  • Kolasa, Jurek

publication date

  • April 2020