Can we understand and predict patterns of community composition from limited site data?

  • Alexandridis, N. (Presenter)
  • Jeffrey M. Dambacher (Contributor)
  • Fred Jean (Contributor)
  • Cédric Bacher (Contributor)

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation


Understanding the combined role of environmental variability and system structure in the functioning of biological communities remains a major challenge, as most empirical studies address these two elements in isolation. Here, we build on recent work that used general community assembly mechanisms for the functional grouping and qualitative modelling of benthic macroinvertebrates in the Rance estuary (Brittany, France). We present a novel approach that allows the direct comparison of model predictions with spatial observations of community composition. Easy-to-build qualitative mathematical models predict the system’s response to input through each of its variables. A response to input through a specific variable that agrees with the observed pattern of community composition indicates this variable as a likely gateway for environmental variability into the system. Commonly available data of community composition are thus linked to external drivers, considering not only the direct effect of environmental variability on community members, but also its propagation through complex interaction networks. The application of the approach to benthic macroinvertebrates in the Rance estuary produced results that agree with the documented occurrence of a severe winter and its impact on estuarine benthos. The combined investigation of system structure and environmental variability offers the potential to dramatically increase the mechanistic understanding derived from the statistical analysis of limited site data. This can in turn lead to robust predictions about the responses of biological communities to future environmental change.
Period2019 Nov 5
Event titleCHEERS – “Global changes in estuarine and coastal systems: innovative approaches and assessment tools”
Event typeConference
LocationBordeaux, FranceShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational