Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 8669
Title: Estimating partial compensation to bridge between neutral and niche theory in spatio-temporal community dynamics
Author: James T. Thorson, Stephan Munch, Doug Swain
Publication Year: 2017
Journal: Ecology
Volume: 98
Issue: 5
Pages: 1277-1289
DOI: 10.1002/ecy.1760

Niche-based approaches to community analysis often involve estimating a matrix of pairwise interactions among species (the “community matrix”), but this task becomes infeasible using observational data as the number of modeled species increases. As an alternative, neutral theories achieve parsimony by assuming that species within a trophic level are exchangeable, but generally cannot incorporate stabilizing interactions even when they are evident in field data. Finally, both regulated (niche) and unregulated (neutral) approaches have rarely been fitted directly to survey data using spatiotemporal statistical methods. We therefore propose a spatiotemporal and model-based approach to estimate community dynamics that are partially regulated. Specifically, we start with a neutral spatiotemporal model where all species follow ecological drift, which precludes estimating pairwise interactions. We then add regulatory relations until model selection favors stopping, where the “rank” of the interaction matrix may range from zero to the number of species. A simulation experiment shows that model selection can accurately identify the rank of the interaction matrix, and that the identified spatiotemporal model can estimate the magnitude of species interactions. A 40-yr case study for the Gulf of St. Lawrence marine community shows that recovering grey seals have an unregulated and negative relationship with demersal fishes. We therefore conclude that partial regulation is a plausible approximation to community dynamics using field data and hypothesize that estimating partial regulation will be expedient in future analyses of spatiotemporal community dynamics given limited field data. We conclude by recommending ongoing research to add explicit models for movement, so that meta-community theory can be confronted with data in a spatiotemporal statistical framework.

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Theme: Ecosystem approach to improve management of marine resources
Foci: Characterize ecological interactions (e.g. predation, competition, parasitism, disease, etc.) within and among species.
Assess ecosystem status and trends.