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There is a long history of describing communities in ecology. It is now time to develop a general predictive framework for this discipline. The goal is to simultaneously provide a consistent theoretical framework to guide research and a practical framework to guide conservation of wild landscapes. We propose that this framework has four key elements: the species pool vector P, the local community vector C, a vector of environmental filters E, and a vector of functional traits T. The central challenge of community ecology is to predict the species composition of any community C, using prior knowledge of P, E and T. Common filters include flooding, fire and herbivory. Each community C is a subset of the regional species pool P and is the result of filtering that matches species’ traits to the local environmental conditions. Dispersal, competition and time are also important in community assembly.
The community is a subset of the species pool created by the action of one or more environmental filters. We propose (Proposition 1) that in any habitat, the power of a filter can be measured as the proportion of species that it removes from the species pool. Filters can be abiotic or biotic in origin. Drought, frosts, hypoxia and wildfires are important abiotic (physical) filters, while predation (including herbivory) and competition are important biotic filters. We also propose (Proposition 2) that in any habitat only a small number of filters is likely important. Moreover (Proposition 3), in any region a large number of species are likely controlled by the same filters. These three propositions provide guidance for setting priorities in research and habitat management. One of the most important challenges in community ecology is to identify and rank the filters that control species composition in specified landscapes.
This book addresses an important problem in ecology: how are communities assembled from species pools? This pressing question underlies a broad array of practical problems in ecology and environmental science, including restoration of damaged landscapes, management of protected areas, and protection of threatened species. This book presents a simple logical structure for ecological assembly and addresses key areas including species pools, traits, environmental filters, and functional groups. It demonstrates the use of two predictive models (CATS and Traitspace) and consists of many wide-ranging examples including plants in deserts, wetlands, and forests, and communities of fish, amphibians, birds, mammals, and fungi. Global in scope, this volume ranges from the arid lands of North Africa, to forests in the Himalayas, to Amazonian floodplains. There is a strong focus on applications, particularly the twin challenges of conserving biodiversity and understanding community responses to climate change.
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