Patrick L. Thompson. Laura Melissa Guzman, Luc De Meester, Zsófia Horváth, Robert Ptacnik, Bram Vanschoenwinkel, Duarte S. Viana, and Jonathan M. Chase. 2020A process‐based metacommunity framework linking local and regional scale community ecology. Ecology Letters
The metacommunity concept has the potential to integrate local and regional dynamics within a general community ecology framework. To this end, the concept must move beyond the discrete archetypes that have largely defined it (e.g. neutral vs. species sorting) and better incorporate local scale species interactions and coexistence mechanisms. Here, we present a fundamental reconception of the framework that explicitly links local coexistence theory to the spatial processes inherent to metacommunity theory, allowing for a continuous range of competitive community dynamics. These dynamics emerge from the three underlying processes that shape ecological communities: (1) density‐independent responses to abiotic conditions, (2) density‐dependent biotic interactions and (3) dispersal. Stochasticity is incorporated in the demographic realisation of each of these processes. We formalise this framework using a simulation model that explores a wide range of competitive metacommunity dynamics by varying the strength of the underlying processes. Using this model and framework, we show how existing theories, including the traditional metacommunity archetypes, are linked by this common set of processes. We then use the model to generate new hypotheses about how the three processes combine to interactively shape diversity, functioning and stability within metacommunities.