Recreational fisheries are traditionally managed at local scales, but more effective management could be achieved using a cross‐scale approach. To do this, we must first understand how local
processes scale up to influence landscape patterns between anglers and resources. We highlight how population‐based synchrony methods, used in conjunction with a complex‐adaptive‐systems framework, can reveal emergent spatial properties within social‐ecological
systems such as recreational fisheries. Herein, we quantified the level of spatial synchrony in angler behaviour, defined the relationship between angler synchrony and distance among waterbodies, and highlighted social‐ecological attributes contributing
to these patterns. We leveraged a 111 waterbody‐year (34 waterbodies, 5‐year collection period) recreational fisheries dataset from Nebraska, USA to address these objectives. Intra‐annual patterns in angler behaviour were moderately synchronous
across large spatial scales and predominately unrelated to distance among waterbodies. Large‐scale synchronous patterns in angler behaviour emerged from local‐scale interactions between angler heterogeneity and waterbody diversity. Spatial synchrony
in angler behaviour is an emergent property that resulted from local‐level processes that scaled up to form large‐scale patterns. We posit that angler utility in combination with waterbodies sharing these desired utility components caused spatial synchrony among anglers with
similar preferences or specializations. The level of spatial synchrony in angler behaviour will therefore depend on the degree of angler heterogeneity and waterbody diversity on the landscape, with high or low levels of both leading to low and high levels of spatial synchrony respectively.
Synthesis and applications. Synchrony‐based methods proved useful for unveiling an emergent property in recreational fisheries that is beneficial for effective cross‐scale management. It may not be appropriate to extrapolate information and apply uniform
management actions among local waterbodies because angler behaviour was not synchronous at small scales. Rather, anglers respond uniquely to waterbody diversity and therefore substitute waterbodies may be dispersed throughout the landscape. Creating boat access, for example could yield unintended
consequences for a particular angler group and cause local and regional shifts in angler behaviour. Evaluating appropriate management options will require a cross‐scale monitoring approach that captures angler heterogeneity and waterbody diversity at multiple scales.
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