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Beyond connectivity: how the structure of dispersal influences metacommunity dynamics


Dispersal within metacommunities can play a major role in species persistence by promoting asynchrony between communities. Understanding this role is crucial both for explaining species coexistence and managing landscapes that are increasingly fragmented by human activities. Here, we demonstrate that spatial patterning of dispersal connections can drastically alter both the tendency toward asynchrony and the effect of asynchrony on metacommunity dynamics commonly used to infer the potential for persistence. We also demonstrate that changes in dispersal connections in strictly homogeneous predator-prey metacommunities can generate an extremely rich variety of dynamics even when previously investigated properties of connectivity such as the magnitude and distribution of dispersal among patches are held constant. Furthermore, the dynamics we observe depend strongly on initial conditions. Our results illustrate the effectiveness of measures of spatial structure for predicting asynchrony and its effects on community dynamics, providing a deeper understanding of the relationship between spatial structure and species persistence in metacommunities.

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