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Well known but never understood: revealing why ecological communities change with distance

The similarity of biological communities decreases with geographical distance, a fact noticed already by early naturalists.

But while this pattern has been widely recognized, there has been astonishing lack of consensus on what the main drivers of this pattern are. By integrating a vast number of different studies, a new article in the journal Ecography by an international team of researchers now for the first time shows that the rate at which biological communities change from place to place is predictably affected by organism properties, characteristics of the environment and geographical location.

The authors demonstrate that both small-scale biological heterogeneity and large-scale changes in species composition are affected by organism properties such as body size, body temperature regulation, and way of dispersal. However, they are also significantly affected by latitude, continent and type of environment, causing the rate of how fast biological communities change across sites to be jointly controlled by environment and organisms themselves. The study provides the first conclusive evidence of how key factors cause biological communities to change with distance and will be an essential paper in years to come.

Davina Quarterman | alfa
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