Scale-dependent spatial patterns in benthic communities around a tropical island seascape

8 October 2018

Aston, Eoghan; Williams, Gareth; Green, Mattias; Davies, Andrew; Wedding, Lisa; Gove, Jamison; Jouffray, Jean-Baptiste; Jones, Tim; Clark, Jeanette

Understanding and predicting patterns of spatial organization across ecological communities is central to the field of landscape ecology, and a similar line of inquiry has begun to evolve sub-tidally among seascape ecologists. Much of our current understanding of the processes driving marine community patterns, particularly in the tropics, has come from small-scale, spatially-discrete data that are often not representative of the broader seascape. Here we expand the spatial extent of seascape ecology studies and combine spatially-expansive in situ digital imagery, oceanographic measurements, spatial statistics, and predictive modeling to test whether predictable patterns emerge between coral reef benthic competitors across scales in response to intra-island gradients in physical drivers. We do this around the entire circumference of a remote, uninhabited island in the central Pacific that lacks the confounding effects of direct human impacts. We show, for the first time, that competing benthic groups demonstrate predictable scaling patterns of organization, with positive autocorrelation in the cover of each group at scales