Stability and synchrony across ecological hierarchies in heterogeneous metacommunities: linking theory to data

31 January 2019

Wang, Shaopeng; Lamy, Thomas; Hallett, Lauren; Loreau, Michel

Understanding stability across ecological hierarchies is critical for landscape management in a changing world. Recent studies showed that synchrony among lower-level components is key to scaling temporal stability across two hierarchical levels, whether spatial or organizational. But an extended framework that integrates both spatial scale and organizational level simultaneously is required to clarify the sources of ecosystem stability at large scales. However, such an extension is far from trivial when taking into account the spatial heterogeneities in real-world ecosystems. In this paper, we develop a partitioning framework that bridges variability and synchrony measures across spatial scales and organizational levels in heterogeneous metacommunities. In this framework, metacommunity variability is expressed as the product of local-scale population variability and two synchrony indices that capture the temporal coherence across species and space, respectively. We develop an R function “var.partition” and apply it to five types of desert plant communities to illustrate our framework and test how diversity shapes synchrony and variability at different scales. As the observation scale increased from local populations to metacommunities, the temporal variability of plant productivity was reduced mainly by factors that decreased species synchrony. Species synchrony decreased from local to regional scales, and spatial synchrony decreased from species to community levels. Local and regional species diversity were key factors that reduced species synchrony at the two scales. Moreover, beta diversity contributed to decreasing spatial synchrony among communities. We conclude that our new framework offers a valuable toolbox for future empirical studies to disentangle the mechanisms and pathways by which ecological factors influence stability at large scales.