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Spatial scaling and transition in pneumatophore arthropod communities

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Although most ecological variables are scale-dependent, few studies cover a broad range of spatial scales. Here, we consider South African mangrove pneumatophore arthropod communities (mites, crustaceans and insects), across seven spatial scales (from 10 cm to 100 km). We plot spatial autocorrelation in individual species, evaluate if resource and habitat availability determine spatial patterning, and identify the scales of community transition. Spatial autocorrelation in most ecological variables decreased with increasing spatial scale, with notable exceptions for the larger scales. Negative abundance autocorrelation was stronger at 10 km than at 100 km for common species, while the opposite was true for rare species. Spatial autocorrelation in species richness decreased from 1 m (strong positive) to 10 km (strong negative), but was not significant at the 100 km scale. These patterns reflect the patchy distribution of pneumatophores within mangrove forests, that of the forests along the coast, and the poor dispersal abilities of most of the arthropods sampled, in a highly dynamic environment. Although resource and habitat availability exhibited a similar autocorrelation pattern to that of the community, the total mass of pneumatophores did not appear to be an important determinant of community structure. Variations in the abundance of common species, as well as the restricted distribution of rare species caused assemblage structure to change gradually with increasing distance from 10 cm to 100 km, but only marginally from 10 to 100 km. We highlight the need for cross-scale studies in bridging the gap between two key ecological concepts: potential ecological niche and realized geographic range.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2010

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