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Learning from the scale of geographical patterns of abundance

Understanding what drives change in ecology often relies on evidence from spatial patterns.  Organisms can vary in numbers over 100s of kms but be similarly abundant at sites closer together, while others vary enormously between sites just a few km apart.  In a new study published in the journal Ecology, a multinational team led by SAMS scientists has developed methods for describing this kind of spatial pattern in rocky shore species.

Using large data sets from the UK MarClim project, comparing the west of Scotland with southwest England and Wales, we have shown that species on the more complex Scottish coast vary more on small spatial scales than in the south.

Predators like dogwhelks tend to vary more on small scales, while those species with long-range dispersal tend to vary over larger scales.  Insights from these patterns can shed light on what regulates populations and communities - large-scale variation suggests that the likely controlling processes are acting over large scales.


Burrows, M. T., R. Harvey, L. Robb, E. S. Poloczanska, N. Mieszkowska, P. Moore, R. Leaper, S. J. Hawkins, and L. Benedetti-Cecchi. 2009. Spatial scales of variance in abundance of intertidal species: effects of region, dispersal mode, and trophic level. Ecology 90: 1242-1254.


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