Species insurance trumps spatial insurance in stabilizing biomass of a marine macroalgal metacommunity

By: , and 



Because natural ecosystems are complex, it is difficult to predict how their variability scales across space and levels of organization. The species‐insurance hypothesis predicts that asynchronous dynamics among species should reduce variability when biomass is aggregated either from local species populations to local multispecies communities, or from metapopulations to metacommunities. Similarly, the spatial‐insurance hypothesis predicts that asynchronous spatial dynamics among either local populations or local communities should stabilize metapopulation biomass and metacommunity biomass, respectively. In combination, both species and spatial insurance reduce variation in metacommunity biomass over time, yet these insurances are rarely considered together in natural systems. We partitioned the extent that species insurance and spatial insurance reduced the annual variation in macroalgal biomass in a southern California kelp forest. We quantified variability and synchrony at two levels of organization (population and community) and two spatial scales (local plots and region) and quantified the strength of species and spatial insurance by comparing observed variability and synchrony in aggregate biomass to null models of independent species or spatial dynamics based on cyclic‐shift permutation. Spatial insurance was weak, presumably because large‐scale oceanographic processes in the study region led to high spatial synchrony at both population‐ and community‐level biomass. Species insurance was stronger due to asynchronous dynamics among the metapopulations of a few common species. In particular, a regional decline in the dominant understory kelp species Pterygophora californica was compensated for by the rise of three subdominant species. These compensatory dynamics were associated with positive values of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, indicating that differential species tolerances to warmer temperature and nutrient‐poor conditions may underlie species insurance in this system. Our results illustrate how species insurance can stabilize aggregate community properties in natural ecosystems where environmental conditions vary over broad spatial scales.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Species insurance trumps spatial insurance in stabilizing biomass of a marine macroalgal metacommunity
Series title Ecology
DOI 10.1002/ecy.2719
Volume 100
Issue 2
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description e02719, 10 p.