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Large-scale spatial ecology of dung beetles

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Recent modelling work shows that the composition of local communities can be influenced by the configuration of the surrounding landscape, but many of these models assume that all community members display the same type of extinction-colonization dynamics. I use Aphodius dung beetles to test the hypothesis that interspecific differences in habitat selection and dispersal capacity may translate into differences in spatial population dynamics, even among closely related species coexisting on the same resource. If this is true, then groups of species with different characteristics would show different responses to landscape configuration.

I first divided the area of Finland into a grid, and used collection records to describe regional variation in the Aphodius fauna of open cattle pastures. I then sampled dung beetles on 131 cattle farms, to examine whether the subset of species found on each farm was related to the density of pastures in the surrounding grid square. Finally, I used historical records to analyze changes in dung beetle communities during the last century, when there was great loss of pasture.

Overall, I found no relationship between landscape characteristics and the total proportion of the regional species pool that was found on each farm. However, the distribution of species among guilds with different habitat specificity did relate to the configuration of the landscape, and the pattern was most pronounced in a specialists species with limited dispersal. Associations between community structure and landscape configuration were superimposed on two much larger and stronger patterns: a large-scale latitudinal gradient in regional species richness, and a decelerating gain of species to local communities with an increasing regional species pool. I conclude that ecological variation among community members is a crucial factor in the analysis of local community composition, and that local species richness should always be conditioned on regional richness.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2001

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