The Theory of Ecological Communities (MPB-57)

Monographs in Population Biology

Book 75
Princeton University Press
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A plethora of different theories, models, and concepts make up the field of community ecology. Amid this vast body of work, is it possible to build one general theory of ecological communities? What other scientific areas might serve as a guiding framework? As it turns out, the core focus of community ecology—understanding patterns of diversity and composition of biological variants across space and time—is shared by evolutionary biology and its very coherent conceptual framework, population genetics theory. The Theory of Ecological Communities takes this as a starting point to pull together community ecology's various perspectives into a more unified whole.

Mark Vellend builds a theory of ecological communities based on four overarching processes: selection among species, drift, dispersal, and speciation. These are analogues of the four central processes in population genetics theory—selection within species, drift, gene flow, and mutation—and together they subsume almost all of the many dozens of more specific models built to describe the dynamics of communities of interacting species. The result is a theory that allows the effects of many low-level processes, such as competition, facilitation, predation, disturbance, stress, succession, colonization, and local extinction to be understood as the underpinnings of high-level processes with widely applicable consequences for ecological communities.

Reframing the numerous existing ideas in community ecology, The Theory of Ecological Communities provides a new way for thinking about biological composition and diversity.

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About the author

Mark Vellend is professor of biology at the Université de Sherbrooke. He is a 2015 recipient of an E. W. R. Steacie Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 23, 2016
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Pages
248
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ISBN
9781400883790
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Life Sciences / Biology
Science / Life Sciences / Ecology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Evolutionary Community Ecology develops a unified framework for understanding the structure of ecological communities and the dynamics of natural selection that shape the evolution of the species inhabiting them. All species engage in interactions with many other species, and these interactions regulate their abundance, define their trajectories of natural selection, and shape their movement decisions. Mark McPeek synthesizes the ecological and evolutionary dynamics generated by species interactions that structure local biological communities and regional metacommunities.

McPeek explores the ecological performance characteristics needed for invasibility and coexistence of species in complex networks of species interactions. This species interaction framework is then extended to examine the ecological dynamics of natural selection that drive coevolution of interacting species in these complex interaction networks. The models of natural selection resulting from species interactions are used to evaluate the ecological conditions that foster diversification at multiple trophic levels. Analyses show that diversification depends on the ecological context in which species interactions occur and the types of traits that define the mechanisms of those species interactions. Lastly, looking at the mechanisms of speciation that affect species richness and diversity at various spatial scales and the consequences of past climate change over the Quaternary period, McPeek considers how metacommunity structure is shaped at regional and biogeographic scales.

Integrating evolutionary theory into the study of community ecology, Evolutionary Community Ecology provides a new framework for predicting how communities are organized and how they may change over time.

Metacommunity ecology links smaller-scale processes that have been the provenance of population and community ecology—such as birth-death processes, species interactions, selection, and stochasticity—with larger-scale issues such as dispersal and habitat heterogeneity. Until now, the field has focused on evaluating the relative importance of distinct processes, with niche-based environmental sorting on one side and neutral-based ecological drift and dispersal limitation on the other. This book moves beyond these artificial categorizations, showing how environmental sorting, dispersal, ecological drift, and other processes influence metacommunity structure simultaneously.

Mathew Leibold and Jonathan Chase argue that the relative importance of these processes depends on the characteristics of the organisms, the strengths and types of their interactions, the degree of habitat heterogeneity, the rates of dispersal, and the scale at which the system is observed. Using this synthetic perspective, they explore metacommunity patterns in time and space, including patterns of coexistence, distribution, and diversity. Leibold and Chase demonstrate how these processes and patterns are altered by micro- and macroevolution, traits and phylogenetic relationships, and food web interactions. They then use this scale-explicit perspective to illustrate how metacommunity processes are essential for understanding macroecological and biogeographical patterns as well as ecosystem-level processes.

Moving seamlessly across scales and subdisciplines, Metacommunity Ecology is an invaluable reference, one that offers a more integrated approach to ecological patterns and processes.

The number of species found at a given point on the planet varies by orders of magnitude, yet large-scale gradients in biodiversity appear to follow some very general patterns. Little mechanistic theory has been formulated to explain the emergence of observed gradients of biodiversity both on land and in the oceans. Based on a comprehensive empirical synthesis of global patterns of species diversity and their drivers, A Theory of Global Biodiversity develops and applies a new theory that can predict such patterns from few underlying processes.

The authors show that global patterns of biodiversity fall into four consistent categories, according to where species live: on land or in coastal, pelagic, and deep ocean habitats. The fact that most species groups, from bacteria to whales, appear to follow similar biogeographic patterns of richness within these habitats points toward some underlying structuring principles. Based on empirical analyses of environmental correlates across these habitats, the authors combine aspects of neutral, metabolic, and niche theory into one unifying framework. Applying it to model terrestrial and marine realms, the authors demonstrate that a relatively simple theory that incorporates temperature and community size as driving variables is able to explain divergent patterns of species richness at a global scale.

Integrating ecological and evolutionary perspectives, A Theory of Global Biodiversity yields surprising insights into the fundamental mechanisms that shape the distribution of life on our planet.

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