- Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
- Biodiversity, Biogeography, Climate change, Demography, Dispersal & Migration, Habitat selection, Macroecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Species distributions, Theoretical ecology
Three points of consideration before testing the effect of patch connectivity on local species richness: patch delineation, scaling and variability of metrics
Good practice guidelines for testing species-isolation relationships in patch-matrix systems
Conservation biology is strongly rooted in the theory of island biogeography (TIB). In island systems where the ocean constitutes the inhospitable matrix, TIB predicts that species richness increases with island size as extinction rates decrease with island area (the species-area relationship, SAR), and species richness increases with connectivity as colonisation rates decrease with island isolation (the species-isolation relationship, SIR). In conservation biology, patches of habitat (habitat islands) are often regarded as analogous to islands within an unsuitable matrix , and SAR and SIR concepts have received much attention as habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are increasingly threatening biodiversity [3,4].
The existence of SAR in patch-matrix systems has been confirmed in several studies, while the relative importance of SIR remains debated [2,5] and empirical evidence is mixed. For example, Thiele et al.  showed that connectivity effects are trait specific and more important to explain species richness of short-distant dispersers and of specialist species for which the matrix is less permeable. Some authors have also cautioned that the relative support for or against the existence of SIR may depend on methodological decisions related to connectivity metrics, patch classification, scaling decisions and sample size .
In this preprint, Laroche and colleagues  argue that methodological limits should be fully understood before questioning the validity of SIR in patch-matrix systems. In consequence, they used a virtual ecologist approach  to qualify different methodological aspects and derive good practice guidelines related to patch delineation, patch connectivity indices, and scaling of indices with species dispersal distance.
Laroche et al.  simulated spatially-explicit neutral meta-communities with up to 100 species in artificial fractal (patch-matrix) landscapes. Each habitat cell could hold up to 100 individuals. In each time step, some individuals died and were replaced by an individual from the regional species pool depending on relative local and regional abundance as well as dispersal distance to the nearest source habitat cell. Different scenarios were run with varying degrees of spatial autocorrelation in the fractal landscape (determining the clumpiness of habitat cells), the proportion of suitable habitat, and the species dispersal distances (with all species showing the same dispersal distance). Laroche and colleagues then sampled species richness in the simulated meta-communities, computed different local connectivity indices for the simulated landscapes (Buffer index with different radii, dIICflux index and dF index, and, finally, related species richness to connectivity.
The complex simulations allowed Laroche and colleagues  to test how methodological choices and landscape features may affect SIR. Overall, they found that patch delineation is crucial and should be fine enough to exclude potential within-patch dispersal limitations, and the scaling of the connectivity indices (in simplified words, the window of analyses) should be tailored to the dispersal distance of the species group. Of course, tuning the scaling parameters will be more complicated when dispersal distances vary across species but overall these results corroborate empirical findings that SIR effects are trait specific . Additionally, the results by Laroche and colleagues  indicated that indices based on Euclidian rather than topological distance are more performant and that evidence of SIR is more likely if Buffer indices are highly variable between sampled patches.
Although the study is very technical due to the complex simulation approach and the different methods tested, I hope it will not only help guiding methodological choices but also inspire ecologists to further test or even revisit SIR (and SAR) hypotheses for different systems. Also, Laroche and colleagues propose many interesting avenues that could still be explored in this context, for example determining the optimal grid resolution for the patch delineation in empirical studies.
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 Laroche, F., Balbi, M., Grébert, T., Jabot, F. and Archaux, F. (2020) Three points of consideration before testing the effect of patch connectivity on local species richness: patch delineation, scaling and variability of metrics. bioRxiv, 640995, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/640995
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