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Spatial point pattern analysis of available and exploited resources

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A patchy spatial distribution of resources underpins many models of population regulation and species coexistence, so ecologists require methods to analyse spatially-explicit data of resource distribution and use. We describe a method for analysing maps of resources and testing hypotheses about species' distributions and selectivity. The method uses point pattern analysis based on the L-function, the linearised form of Ripley's K-function. Monte Carlo permutations are used for statistical tests. We estimate the difference between observed and expected values of L(t), an approach with several advantages: 1) The results are easy to interpret ecologically. 2) It obviates the need for edge correction, which has largely precluded the use of L-functions where plot boundaries are “real”. Including edge corrections may lead to erroneous conclusions if the underlying assumptions are invalid. 3) The null expectation can take many forms, we illustrate two models: complete spatial randomness (to describe the spatial pattern of resources in the landscape) and the underlying pattern of resource patches in the landscape (akin to a neutral landscape approach). The second null is particularly useful to test whether spatial patterns of exploited resource points simply reflect the spatial patterns of all resource points. We tested this method using over 100 simulated point patterns encompassing a range of patterns that might occur in ecological systems, and some very extreme patterns. The approach is generally robust, but Type II decision errors might arise where spatial patterns are weak and when trying to detect a clumped pattern of exploited points against a clumped pattern of all points. An empirical example of an intertidal lichen growing on barnacle shells illustrates how this technique might be used to test hypotheses about dispersal mechanisms. This approach can increase the value of survey data, by permitting quantification of natural resource patch distribution in the landscape as well as patterns of resource use by species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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