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Type: Journal article
Title: Variation at local scales need not impede tests for broader scale patterns
Author: Fowler-Walker, M.
Connell, S.
Gillanders, B.
Citation: Marine Biology: international journal on life in oceans and coastal waters, 2005; 147(3):823-831
Publisher: Springer
Issue Date: 2005
ISSN: 0025-3162
Statement of
Meegan J. Fowler-Walker, Sean D. Connell and Bronwyn M. Gillanders
Abstract: Ecologists are not always mindful of the constraints imposed by their scale of observation and sometimes prematurely attempt broad generalisations or become mesmerised by local details depending on their predilections. We specifically chose a character that is known for its local and unpredictable variation (morphology of kelp) to test the effect of scale on our ability to determine spatial patterns. We compared the morphology of Ecklonia radiata between monospecific and mixed stands of canopy-forming algae across temperate Australia (>5,100 km coastal distance) within a hierarchy of several spatial scales. While E. radiata specimens were generally larger in monospecific than in mixed stands, we failed to observe differences in morphology between stands at many sites and locations. Despite substantial local variation, differences between stands became increasingly clear at broader scales. The frequency of inconsistent differences between stands was greatest at local scales (sites separated by kms), intermediate at intermediate scales (locations separated by 100s of kms) and least at regional scales (regions separated by 1,000s of kms). These observations support the idea that large scale patterns can emerge from apparent stochasticity at small scales, and that unaccountable variation at local scales need not impede tests for similar patterns at broader scales. Most ecologists work at scales where complexity tends to be greatest (i.e. local) and is likely to be explained by special and unique events. It is encouraging, therefore, to observe that patterns can emerge from complexity at local scales to provide new opportunities to answer some of the more interesting questions about the relative importance of processes across the vast parts of the worlds coast.
Description: The original publication can be found at
DOI: 10.1007/s00227-005-1605-x
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