Leibold M.A., Holyoak M., Mouquet N., Amarasekare P., Chase J., Hoopes M., Holt R., Shurin J.B., Law R., Tilman D., Loreau M., and Gonzalez A. (2004).

Ecology letters, 7, 601-613, doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2004.00608.x

Key message : Here we review current understanding about this concept. We first investigate issues related to its definition as a set of local communities that are linked by dispersal of multiple potentially interacting species. We then identify four paradigms for metacommunities: the patch-dynamic view, the species-sorting view, the mass effects view and the neutral view, that each emphasizes different processes of potential importance in metacommunities. These have somewhat distinct intellectual histories and we discuss elements related to their potential future synthesis. We then use this framework to discuss why the concept is useful in modifying existing ecological thinking and illustrate this with a number of both theoretical and empirical examples. As ecologists strive to understand increasingly complex mechanisms and strive to work across multiple scales of spatio-temporal organization, concepts like the metacommunity can provide important insights that frequently contrast with those that would be obtained with more conventional approaches based on local communities alone.

Schematic representation of the four paradigms for metacommunity theory for two competing species with populations A and B. Arrows connect donor populations with potential colonization sites, shown as large boxes or ovals. Solid arrows indicate higher dispersal than dashed arrows and either unidirectional movement (single-headed arrows) or bidirectional movement (double-headed arrows). The degree to which a species is the competitive dominant in a site is shown by the matching of the smaller box or oval (denoting its habitat type niche) with the site symbol. The four paradigms illustrated are (a) patch dynamics, (b) species-sorting, (c) mass-effects and (d) neutral.

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OTHER TOPICS: Aesthetics of Biodiversity, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning, Biogeography, Macroecology & Ecophylogenetics, Experimental Evolution, Functional Biogeography, Functional Rarity, Metacommunities, Metaecosystems, Reviews and Synthesis, Trophic Biogeography & Metaweb