Ecological interactions, environmental correlation and spatial synchrony

B.E. Kendall, O.N. Bjørnstad, J. Bascompte, T.H. Keitt and W.F. Fagan: Ecological interactions, environmental correlation and spatial synchrony.

American Naturalist (2000) 155: 628-636


Many species exhibit widespread spatial synchrony in population fluctuations. This pattern is of great ecological interest and can be a source of concern when the species is rare or endangered. Both dispersal and spatial correlations in the environment have been implicated as possible causes of this pattern, but these two factors have rarely been studied in combination. We develop a spatially structured population model, simple enough to obtain analytic solutions for the population correlation, that incorporates both dispersal and environmental correlation. We ask whether these two synchronizing factors contribute additively to the total spatial population covariance. We find that there is always an interaction between these two factors and that this interaction is small only when one or both of the environmental correlation and the dispersal rate are small. The interaction is opposite in sign to the environmental correlation; so, in the normal case of positive environmental correlation across sites, the population synchrony will be lower than predicted by simply adding the effects of dispersal and environmental correlation. We also find that population synchrony declines as the strength of population regulation increases. These results indicate that dispersal and environmental correlation need to be considered in combination as explanations for observed patterns of population synchrony.

Keywords: coupled patch model, dispersal, environmental correlation, Moran effect, spatial synchrony.