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Spatial effects on species persistence and implications for biodiversity

Natural ecosystems are characterized by striking diversity of form and functions and yet exhibit deep symmetries emerging across scales of space, time, and organizational complexity. Species-area relationships and species-abundance distributions are examples of emerging patterns irrespective of the details of the underlying ecosystem functions. Here we present empirical and theoretical evidence for a new macroecological pattern related to the distributions of local species persistence times, defined as the time spans between local colonizations and extinctions in a given geographic region. Empirical distributions pertaining to two different taxa, breeding birds and herbaceous plants, analyzed in a framework that accounts for the finiteness of the observational period exhibit power-law scaling limited by a cutoff determined by the rate of emergence of new species. In spite of the differences between taxa and spatial scales of analysis, the scaling exponents are statistically indistinguishable from each other and significantly different from those predicted by existing models. We theoretically investigate how the scaling features depend on the structure of the spatial interaction network and show that the empirical scaling exponents are reproduced once a two-dimensional isotropic texture is used, regardless of the details of the ecological interactions. The framework developed here also allows to link the cutoff time scale with the spatial scale of analysis, and the persistence-time distribution to the species-area relationship. We conclude that the inherent coherence obtained between spatial and temporal macroecological patterns points at a seemingly general feature of the dynamical evolution of ecosystems.

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